We always hear about how to protect ourselves during the hot summer months on the job site but we also have to remember to protect ourselves during the winter cold weather as well.
In cold temperatures you begin to lose heat faster than you can produce it. Prolonged exposure to cold may result in hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperatures that drop too low affect the brain and make it difficult to think clearly or move quickly. Hypothermia is dangerous because you may not know it’s occurring until it’s too late. Hypothermia is more likely at very cold temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Victims of hypothermia are most often elderly or babies and those outside for long periods of time. Signs of Hypothermia are shivering/exhaustion, confusion / fumbling hands, memory loss/slurred speech and drowsiness.
For treatment of hypothermia, first take a temperature. If below 95° get medical attention immediately and begin warming the person by getting into a warm room or shelter, removing wet clothing, warm the core of the body first with an electric blanket, or skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, warm beverages, not alcohol, and not if unconscious. After the body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck. Get medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case get emergency assistance immediately. Start CPR until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Tips to remember:
- Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may be dangerous.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries and what to do.
- Wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions, including layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.
- If working in extreme conditions, take frequent short breaks in warm dry shelters to allow their bodies to warm up.
- 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.
- Employees face increased risks when they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.