Cold Stress. The data doesn’t lie: Seasons are becoming more extreme. And the ever-increasing unpredictability of Mother Nature is making it harder than ever for workers exposed to her wild weather swings to prepare.
Take the record-setting winter of 2017-2018, for example. Long stretches of extreme cold matched with powerful blizzards put much of North America in a deep freeze many have not seen in their lifetime. Even areas like Louisiana, Texas and Florida were impacted by sizable snowfall and temps that plummeted well below average. In many parts of the US, winter didn’t release its grip well into April.
With these cold-weather extremes as a backdrop, it’s more important than ever to be able to properly identify the most common cold-related illnesses, knowing what treatments to seek and how to prevent them in the first place.
KNOW THE RISK
When the body temperature drops below 98.6˚F (or 37˚C), blood begins to flow away from the extremities to heat the body’s core. This immediately cools exposed skin and extremities, and increases the risk of cold stress, specifically frostbite and hypothermia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), early signs and symptoms of cold stress include shivering, fatigue, and confusion or disorientation. They can evolve to include blue skin, a slow pulse, and even loss of consciousness.
COLD RELATED ILLNESSES
Hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot are the most common cold-related illnesses.
> How it happens: Occurs in damp or wet environments that are just above freezing.
> Symptoms: Numbness, swelling, blisters and open sores. Feet may turn red or blue as a result of poor blood supply. If left untreated, trench foot can turn gangrenous.
> How to teat it: Remove wet socks and footwear. Clean feet with warm water and dry thoroughly. Seek medical treatment immediately and do not wear socks when sleeping or resting.
> How it happens: Blood leaves the extremities to protect vital organs in the body’s core.
> Symptoms: White, grayish, or bluish skin. Cold, hard or waxy feel. May itch, burn or feel numb. Blistering and hardening of skin are signs of extreme frostbite.
> How to treat it: Get out of the cold, and gradually warm the affected skin. Place frostbitten areas in warm – not hot- water. Wrap affected areas in a warm blanket and seek emergency medical help immediately.
> How it happens: Body heat is lost faster than it’s produced. Core body temp drops below 95˚F (35˚C).
> Symptoms: Shivering, poor coordination, confusion, slurred and slow speech, hallucinations or changes in personality.
> How to treat it: Treat the worker very gently and do not apply external heat to re-warm. In mild cases, move to warm area and stay active. Cover head and body with dry clothes or blankets. Drink a warm (not hot) drink. Contact emergency medical personnel in more moderate cases. In severe cases, hospital treatment is required.
PREVENTION + SOLUTIONS
Working safely in bitter cold conditions requires planning, regular breaks to get warm and layering up in the right PPE.
There is no single magic garment able to adapt to the ever-changing environmental variables of winter the way a proper layering system can.
Smart solutions: A breathable, wind/water-resistant outer layer, an insulating middle layer and a breathable, moisture-wicking base layer provide the protective barriers needed to combat cold. Protect extremities with thermal headwear and work gloves. Supplement with warming packs for feet, hands and liners.
Ice and snow make for treacherous terrain that leads to nasty slips and falls.
Smart solutions: Ice cleats that fit over workboots provide a simple solution for stable footing.
Dehydration in cold environments is a major risk especially since lower temperatures suppress thirst (the body is focused on regulating core temp more than fluid balance).
Smart solutions: Hydration packs encourage more fluid intake than bottles.
Cold related illnesses and fatalities are 100% preventable when you know the risks, symptoms and solutions. With expert training, support and endless innovation, Ergodyne and Safety Products Inc can help you lead the way in making the Workplace a Betterplace™.
Join us in our vision of working together to make America safe!
Article provided by the Ergodyne Cold Stress Guide.
View related blog content! Checkout the 5 Handy Hacks to Survive Cold and Flu.