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This week’s deep freeze across the Midwest serves as a reminder that extremely cold conditions call for extreme safety measures. But even exposure to moderately low temperatures, wind and water can have serious health consequences.
Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, develops when the body is unable to replace heat lost to the environment. In addition, when surfaces are icy, or obstacles are obscured by mud or snow, slip and fall risk increases. When it’s cold out, sprains and strains are more likely to occur in the morning before tight muscles are warmed up and at the end of the work day when employees are tired.
Other factors that increase exposure risk in the cold include:
When it’s cold, employees have to work harder to maintain their body’s core temperature. Cold-weather workers who wear heavy, protective clothing require 10-15 percent more calories a day compared to those working in temperate climates.
To work safely in cold weather, it’s always advisable for employees to:
It’s also important to be prepared to respond to cold-related symptoms. Shivering, an early indicator of cold stress, causes blood to flow from the extremities and skin surface to the body’s core (chest and abdomen). A person suffering from cold stress may be re-warmed by going indoors, wrapping up in blankets, moving around to generate body heat and given a sweetened, warm, non-alcoholic beverage.
Shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination, confusion (slurred speech) and disorientation are symptoms of hypothermia. In advanced stages, signs include the absence of shivering, blue skin, dilated pupils, shallow breathing and irregular heartbeat. In late stages, the victim may feel too warm and want to remove clothing. It’s important to get immediate medical assistance for these symptoms and ask emergency medical technicians for rewarming instructions. Until help arrives, you may be advised to:
Rewarming should not be attempted if someone is unconscious. If a person is not breathing or has no pulse for a period of one minute, rescue breathing may be started. Chest compression should only be applied under the direction of emergency response personnel.
To learn more, refer to WorkCare’s Fact Sheet on Preventing Cold-Related Injuries and Illnesses.
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