Cold weather can cause a variety of injuries, and even death, if you’re not properly prepared. Smart work practices, proper clothing, first aid awareness, and vigilance can ward off common winter injuries and illnesses.
When thinking about cold weather injuries, not many would think about poisoning, but, in fact, carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of death, especially during the winter months. Faulty gas furnaces, automobiles, and poorly ventilated generators are common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning. These injuries are preventable by simply ensuring proper ventilation is in place.
Hypothermia and frostbite are, perhaps, the most common cold weather-related injuries. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses more heat than it can generate, and the body temperature falls to below 95ºF. It’s commonly caused by extended exposure to the cold without the proper protective clothing, wearing wet clothes in windy or cold weather, or heavy exertion during cold weather while not drinking enough fluids. Symptoms of hypothermia include drowsiness, confusion, loss of coordination, uncontrollable shivering, and slowed breathing or heart rate.
Frostbite usually occurs in exposed areas or extremities, which can be numbed because of slowed blood flow. When frostbite begins, you’ll lose feeling in the affected area. The frozen tissues will appear whitish or pale. If you suspect frostbite, hold the frostbitten area closely against warm skin to return blood flow and warmth to that area.
Two of the most significant factors for evaluating cold exposure are core body temperature and wind chill. The wind chill index is used to determine the risk of cold injury. For a wind chill chart, wind chill calculator, and answers to typical questions about wind chill and cold, visit the Wind Chill Temperature Index from the Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services inside the NOAA National Weather Service at www.nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill.
Proper apparel for cold temperatures is essential to keep yourself and your workers safe. Clothing should be layered when working in cold weather. The same layering system applies to protecting the head, hands, and feet. Mittens or gloves; multiple layers of windproof, water-resistant clothing; two pair of socks (cotton next to skin, then wool); a scarf and hat that covers the ears will help protect against the dangerous winter weather. In addition, facemasks will help prevent frostbite and conserve heat loss.
In extremely cold temperatures, especially with high winds, workers should not be outside in wet clothing. Workers should be sure they have a complete change of clothing available in case their clothes get wet or they sweat excessively.
You and your workers should also be trained in proper re-warming techniques, appropriate first aid treatment, proper cold weather apparel, eating and drinking requirements, the signs and symptoms of cold injuries, and safe work practices.
With the proper preparation and training, you and your workers can minimize or eliminate injuries this winter season. If you have any questions about what cold weather products are right for your workers, call our Technical Support Reps at 800-631-1246, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. They’ll give you the information you need to make the right choice for you and your workers.