Keep Warm This Winter
When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Hypothermia can occur when land temperatures are above freezing or water temperatures are below 98.6°F. Cold-related illnesses can slowly overcome a person who has been chilled by low temperatures, brisk winds, or wet clothing.
What Happens to the Body
- Freezing occurs in deep layers of skin and tissue.
- Skin color becomes pale, waxy-white.
- Skin becomes hard and numb.
- Usually affects the fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears, and nose first.
What Should Be Done
- Move the person to a warm, dry area. Don’t leave the person alone.
- Remove any wet or tight clothing that may cut off blood flow to the affected area.
- Do not rub the affected area, because rubbing causes damage to the skin and tissue.
- Gently place the affected area in a warm (105 degrees F) water bath and monitor the water temperature to slowly warm the tissue. Don’t pour warm water directly on the affected area because it will warm the tissue too fast causing tissue damage. Warming takes about 25-40 minutes.
- After the affected area has been warmed, it may become puffy and blister. The affected area may have a burning feeling or numbness. When normal feeling, movement, and skin color have returned, the affected area should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm. NOTE: If there is a chance the affected area may get cold again, do not warm the skin. If the skin is warmed and then becomes cold again, severe tissue damage can result.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Other Concerns for Workers in Cold Environments
- Employees working in cold environments must wear additional clothing, which can restrict movement and increase the force they must exert when performing lifting operations. Additionally, employees burn more energy in these environments to keep warm, so fatigue may occur more rapidly, which increases the risk of injury. Cold areas may also have ice forming on work surfaces where slipping can cause injury or strain, especially if a load is being carried when the slip occurs.
- Provide warm clothing that fits properly and does not hinder movement.
- Provide adequate periods of rest so employees can recuperate.
- Rotate employees to less stressful conditions.
- Maintain areas and equipment to minimize slipping
As winter approaches, take a few minutes to review these cold weather safety tips and get prepared. Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures can result in serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. Extreme exposure, including cold-water immersion, can result in death.
Danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. If these signs are observed, call for emergency help.
Tips on How to Protect Yourself
- Recognize environmental and workplace conditions that can be dangerous.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses/injuries and what to do should they occur.
- Learn about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions, including layers for changing conditions.
- Take frequent, short breaks in warm, dry shelters to allow the body to warm up.
- Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.
- Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
- Use the buddy system — work in pairs so that one worker can recognize danger signs.
- Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate) or alcohol.
- Eat warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta dishes.
- Remember, you face increased risks when you take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.