With most of the nation suffering from the extreme cold, we have heard a lot of stories about the weather creating hazardous working conditions. Cold related injuries can cause major problems for both the person involved and the business as a whole. Cold related injuries are also very difficult to treat, and in many instances can be fatal.
It is the responsibility of an employer to make sure there are written safety procedures for working in a cold weather environment. This is called a Cold Stress Prevention Program. Every workplace will have different procedures and policies in place depending on the type of work and how much exposure to the elements their employees will encounter. If your employer does not have a current Cold Stress Prevention Program in place, here are some topics that should be covered in a newly developed program.
PROPER GEAR– Making sure employees have the proper attire is the starting point of any Cold Stress Prevention Program. Just having an old hat and gloves is not sufficient enough in cold weather. Hands and feet are the most common places for a cold weather injury to occur. Employees should be equipped with insulated, waterproof/water wicking gloves, socks, and boots. The boots should be able to provide you traction. Hats should have no holes, and fit firmly over the ears. As for the rest of your body, you should wear multiple loose layers of clothing to create an insulating effect. Remember that the clothing should not so loose that it creates a different type of working hazard. Depending on the job duties, full face protection is highly recommended. Last but not least, always have an extra set of dry clothes when working in cold weather.
Controls– Employees should always take breaks when working in cold weather. Breaks should be taken somewhere warm. Having workers work in tandem during cold weather is a good idea. This will allow them to monitor the others condition. Remember to stay hydrated and eat foods high in calories. This is help with your energy resources. Employers may want to consider providing warm beverages, but should avoid coffee due to the caffeine. Some sort of radiant heater can be provided to employees as long as the work space permits it. Be aware of hazards such as carbon monoxide. Never run a heater that produces carbon monoxide in enclosed or close spaces.
Hypothermia– Occurs when your internal body temperature drops to about 95 degrees. Hypothermia is a very serious condition that can result in death. It can affect the brain while working and cause someone to not think clearly. As a result, your employee may be totally unaware that hypothermia is even setting in. This is why working in tandem can prove to be beneficial. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, fatigue, and confusion, loss of coordination, pale blue skin, slow breathing and pulse. Loss of consciousness is possible.
If an employee has symptoms of hypothermia, call for medical assistance immediately. Move the employee to a warm area and remove any wet clothing. Warm them gradually. Warming them too quickly can result in shocking the body and causing more damage. Wrap them in dry layers. Electric blankets can be used. If the employee is still conscious, give them warm beverages.
Frostbite– Is a type of cold injury the cause’s localized damage to the skin and other tissues. The fluid in the cells of the skin freeze and can cause blood clots. Frostbite can result in amputation of the affected areas. The average temperature at which frostbite occurs is 30 degrees. It is most common in the extremities such as the ears, nose, lips, fingers and toes. Symptoms of frostbite include numbness, sharp prickling sensations, waxy appearance and hardness of tissue, and blistering.
If an employee shows symptoms of frostbite, take them into a warm area and seek medical assistance. Try to warm the affected area with warm water or cloth (max 105 degrees). Do not warm the area if there is a chance that the affected area will become cold again. This can cause severe tissue damage.
Trench Foot– Considered a less severe form of frostbite, it is caused when feet are immersed in cold water for extended periods of time. It can occur in water temperatures as high as 50 degrees; prolonged exposure can ultimately lead to amputation. Symptoms of trench foot include itching, numbness, tickling, swelling, and discoloration.
If an employee experiences these symptoms is it best to move them to a warm location and seek medical assistance. In the mean time you can put the foot in warm water and then wrap it in a dry cloth or bandage.