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In the winter, it’s important to take extra precautions to protect the health of employees who are exposed to cold temperatures.
Workers vulnerable to cold stress include those in construction, mining, logging, agriculture, fishing, recreation, transportation, oil and gas production, and utilities, and members of road crews and first responder teams. Jobs that involve frequent exposure to low indoor temperatures, such as refrigerated storage areas or research labs, also pose health risks.
Cold temperatures cause blood vessels and arteries to narrow, restricting blood flow and reducing the amount of oxygen pumped to the heart. When the heart has to work harder to circulate blood, blood pressure and heart rate increase, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
A worker whose job involves physical exertion may not notice signs and symptoms of cold stress until the condition has advanced to a serious stage.
Several conditions fall into the category of cold stress. They include:
Frostnip and frostbite: When the skin’s surface and deeper tissues freeze, feeling and natural color are lost in affected areas. Symptoms of early-stage frostbite include numbness, tingling or stinging. Frostbite cause achiness and affected skin turns blue, pale and waxy. In advanced stages, tendons, muscles, nerves and bone are damaged and skin may turn black. Frostbite can lead to amputation.
If caught early, it is possible to recover from frostbite. Mildly frozen tissue may be rewarmed and insulated until medical attention is received as long as there is no danger of refreezing. If you suspect frostbite:
Hypothermia: This occurs when an individual’s core temperature falls below 95°F and the body is not able to rewarm itself. Hypothermia can occur even when temperatures are relatively mild if a person gets wet or it’s windy. Initial symptoms include shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination and disorientation; late symptoms include ceasing of shivering, dilated pupils, slowed pulse and breathing, drowsiness and loss of consciousness.
When assisting a co-worker or companion with signs of hypothermia:
Chilblains: Small blood vessels in the skin become inflamed in response to repeated exposure to cold but non-freezing temperatures. Symptoms include redness, itching, blistering, inflammation and ulceration. If you have chilblains, consult with a medical professional and
Trench foot: After prolonged exposure to wet and cold-related conditions, the body constricts blood vessels in the feet to prevent heat loss, causing the skin tissue to die. Symptoms include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain, blisters or ulcers, bleeding under the skin and gangrene.
For immediate care, avoid walking, remove footwear and socks, and dry the feet. Moving to a warm, dry area and using rewarming techniques is usually only minimally effective. Seek medical treatment.
To help prevent cold stress, employees should be reminded to:
Radiant heaters can be used in outdoor security stations where there is protection from drafts or wind. As the body works to stay warm, there is a higher likelihood of becoming dehydrated in cold weather. Fresh water and warm beverages should be available. As feasible, heavy work should be scheduled during the warmest part of the day.
New employees and those returning after time away from work should be given time to adapt to the cold by gradually increasing their workload and scheduling more frequent breaks in warm areas. Contrary to popular belief, blood does not become thicker and improves resistance to cold when an employee moves from a warmer climate to a colder one.
A buddy system is also imperative to keep employees safe. Workers should be assigned tasks in pairs so they can monitor each other for signs of cold stress.
To learn more about keeping your employees safe during the cold winter months, visit us at www.workcare.com.
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