You've probably heard of heat stroke -- but have you heard of cold stress? Cold stress is essentially the winter equivalent of heat stress or heat stroke. Employees who aren't prepared for the cold outside, haven't had time to adapt and aren't outfitted with proper winter-weather protective gear stand an increased risk of both frostbite and hypothermia.
One of the best things that employers and safety conscious employees can do is make workers aware of the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite is the body's response to extreme cold. The cold causes the body to reduce blood flow to the outer tips of the body to protect its vital inner organs. In the process, however, cell death can occur. That's why people who suffer severe frostbite often lose fingers or toes to the condition.
Be alert to early signs of frostbite:
- cold, pale, numb skin
- skin that seems hard, like stone
- stiffened joints or muscles
- blisters and swelling
Once you get where it's warm, elevate the frostbitten body part. Soak the body part in lukewarm water only to avoid damaging your skin further.
Hypothermia, on the other hand, is a drop in body temperature due to the extreme cold. In the early stages, symptoms are easy to spot:
- freezing cold skin
- shivering, shaking, teeth chattering
- slurred speech
- confusion, sleepiness
- loss of coordination
If the condition continues, the individual suffering hypothermia will enter a state where he or she feels comfortably warm again, or even hot. At that point, the situation is critical and he or she needs immediate medical care. Warming blankets and warm liquids can help bring someone around.
Reduce the risk of both conditions by making sure that everyone who goes outside to work is properly outfitted in layered clothing (to catch their body heat between layers, further warming them), hats, gloves, and face scarves whenever possible.
If you are injured by the cold while working, consider exploring all your legal options through workers' compensation before you settle your claim.
Source: EHS Today, "Safety Tips to Prevent Winter-Related Workplace Accidents," Corey Berghoefer, accessed Dec. 22, 2017