Wrap It Up!
With most of the United States experiencing temperatures below freezing for the past week, cold weather stress is a hot topic. Cold produces a progression of physical damage ranging from frost nip to frost bite to hypothermia. Unfortunately, these conditions can be easily overlooked and they can happen quickly.
As with most hazards, the best defense is a proactive offense. The JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) provides the best opportunity within our systems to ensure everyone understands the potential for danger, can identify weather-related hazards and symptoms, and understands corrective measures to implement.
As your body begins to turn cold, it draws blood to your core to keep internal organs warm, limiting the blood flow to the skin. This creates frost nip. Frost nip can be identified by an unnaturally pale color of your skin, most often on the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes.
If you spot frost nip, the affected area should be immediately warmed up. Layer additional clothing, rest in a warm area, or place a warm cloth or similar onto the affected part, however don't rub! Rubbing can damage the frost nipped skin. If spotted quickly, frost nip can be dealt with easily, the effects are not permanent. When frost nip isn’t recognized and corrected early on, continued exposure can lead to frost bite.
Frost bite is a more serious situation where ice crystals form inside tissues. Superficial frostbite is recoverable, though can be intensely painful, whereas deep frostbite can lead to the loss of fingers, toes and even parts of limbs.
If you suspect frostbite, move somewhere warmer, apply a warm compress or warm water, and seek medical attention immediately. Again, don’t rub the area! Rubbing will further damage the effected tissue. Preparations made for cold weather, recognizing frost nip, and keeping an eye out for your coworkers can prevent the unwanted injury. Continued exposure to cold weather can lead to Hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a serious situation where the temperature of the body core falls from its normal 98.6°F to 95°F or less. This may not seem to be much of a drop, but the results can be fatal.
Your body’s reaction to onset hypothermia is progressive, going from shivering, numb extremities, reduced dexterity, impaired judgment, and eventually unconsciousness.
For treatment of hypothermia,
- remove the victim from the cold into a warm, enclosed area
- warm the body by wrapping in blankets
- immediately seek medical attention.
Prevention of cold-induced illnesses/injuries:
Train employees in the preparation and prevention. On colder days, workers must be trained not only about cold-induced illnesses and injuries, but also to determine environmental or worksite conditions that may cause cold stress. Take the time in the pre-shift briefing to remind every one of the signs and symptoms of cold stress or cold-induced injuries like hypothermia and frostbite.
Keep track of your closest coworker, whether they are part of our Wachs family or not. Every so often, engage in a conversation to determine their state of mind and physical condition.
- Layering of clothing
It’s better to go for several thin layers of clothing instead of wearing just a couple of thick layers. For clothes next to the skin, choose synthetic fabrics to avoid absorption of sweat. Make your outer layer of waterproof and wind-resistant material.
- Give consideration to your PPE choices
Wear clothing that can be adjusted to changing conditions. For instance, choose a warm woolen hood that covers your neck, head, and ears. If you get hot while working, just open your jacket. Don’t remove your hat and gloves.
- Refresh with hot liquids and meals
Just as with working in high heat environments, break schedules should be considered. Breaks should be in a warm area. Focus on warm meals and beverages avoiding caffeinated beverages. Caffeine will constrict the blood vessels lessening the blood supply in the skin making the body even colder. Instead, go for warmer beverages such as soups and broths, which also help to reduce the risk of dehydration.