BR-R-R-R! How to Safely Work in Cold Temperatures
For most of us this year, it seems that we have been pretty spoiled with having nice weather. The temperatures have been fairly mild, and the amount of snow, even in the Chicago, Illinois, area, has been at a minimum. But let’s not be fooled—winter is still here and the weather can change at a moment’s notice. For many of us, work means sitting in a warm office only taking a brief look outside at the cold. But, for others, the outside is the office.
Knowing how to dress when working outside is the first step to keeping warm. Keeping your head covered is vital. People can lose up to 40% of their body heat from the head. Keeping the head covered by the use of a stocking cap, scarf, or hood is vital in preventing heat loss. You should also wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing. Avoid tight-fitting clothing as this reduces blood circulation. Layers allow air to be trapped, which can provide insulation. At the same time, it is important that the clothing be permeable to perspiration. The inner layers that are worn should be made of wicking materials such as cotton or polypropylene, which will help draw moisture away from the skin, while middle layers of wool, fleece, or down will help hold a person’s body heat in. Outer layers that are made of windproof and waterproof materials such as Gore-Tex will help keep the elements from getting to the inner layers. If the elements you are working in allow the outer layers to become wet, it is important to keep an extra outer coat with you that can be swapped out with the wet coat. Having a good, comfortable, insulated pair of boots is also very important. Keep in mind that you also want to have some wiggle room to allow your toes to move about, which will help keep them warm. Gloves are vital in keeping the elements off the fingers and hands as well.
Other ways to keep the body warm, along with adequate clothing, are to drink warm liquids, such as hot coffee or tea, and to have more frequent meals. When the body digests food, it generates heat which can help warm the body.
When the body can no longer keep itself warm, cold stresses may set in which could include tissue damage or even death. Other factors contributing to cold stress are cold air temperatures, high winds, humidity, and contact with cold water surfaces. Types of cold stress are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. Hypothermia is when your body loses more heat than it can produce, which forces a low body temperature. A body temperature that is too low can affect a person’s brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and may do nothing about it. Some common symptoms are shivering, fatigue, confusion, blue skin, and even a loss of consciousness. Some common first aid measures are to move to a warm area, remove any wet clothing, cover the head with a dry hat, and warm the center of the body first before moving to the outer extremities.
Frostbite occurs when the extremities of the body, such as the fingers, toes, ears, and even the nose, are exposed to the elements for such a time that they actually freeze. Frostbite can cause a loss of feeling and color to the affected area. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissue and in severe cases, may lead to amputation. Symptoms of frostbite are numbness; tingling, stinging, or aching; and blue, pail, or waxy skin. First aid measures are to move the victim to a warm area and to warm the affected area by using body heat, such as placing the hands and fingers under your arms. DO NOT rub affected extremities such as hands together; this could cause damage to the nerves in the hands and fingers.
Trench foot, which was more commonly heard of during World War I, occurs when a person’s feet are exposed to long periods of immersion. Trench foot does not have to occur in cold temperatures since a person’s feet, when wet, can lose heat up to 25 times faster than they do when dry. People can suffer trench foot with temperatures as high as 60 degrees.
Keep in mind that these tips can be used for anyone and at any time, not just on the job. So when it’s time to get the kids ready to go out sledding or you need to go scrape off the snow and ice from the car before heading into work, these tips may just help you stay a little warmer.
Loss Control Representative