It is the time of the year where temperatures are getting cooler in the daytime, and sometimes close to or below freezing overnight. Because we are a 24/7 society, this means people are working outdoors during the day and night, and need to be aware of the dangers working in cold weather.
The two main concerns for working in cold weather are hypothermia and frostbite. What is the difference?
Hypothermia can occur when the temperature is above freezing. Hypothermia occurs when the body is cold for so long that the heat lost from the body's core makes the body temperature dangerously low. The first sign is shivering - the body' s was of attempting to warm up. Other signs can include numbness, poor coordination, drowsiness, irregular breathing, slurred speech, and puffiness in the face. Windy conditions, physical exhaustion and wet clothing can contribute to hypothermia. When the shivering ceases, hypothermia has set in. This can result in unconsciousness or even death.
Frostbite occurs in freezing weather. The beginning signs include feeling uncomfortably cold and then numb. Some people even report getting a tingling or aching feeling. Body parts most affected: nose ears, cheeks, fingers and toes. The skin turns white and circulation is reduced. The body is not receiving enough heat and therefore, the tissues begin to freeze. In extreme case, blisters form but the person feels no pain. Frostbite can permanently damage tissue, and in extreme cases, the person can become unconscious and stop breathing.
Who is at a higher risk? Persons who don't dress appropriately for cool weather/cold temperature. Persons who are older, overweight, have allergies or poor circulation. Other activities that raise the risk: smoking, drinking and taking medications such as sedatives.
Below are some things you can do to prevent hypothermia and frostbite:
- Wear layers of clothing in buildings/houses and outside - cotton or lightweight wool next to the skin and wool layers over the bottom layer are ideal. Two layers of lightweight wool is better than one heavy pieces of clothing.
- If working in wet weather, wear a waterproof garment over layers. Also, keep extra clean, dry sock and gloves available.
- Remember to wear something on your head, neck and ears, as well as gloves. Why cover your head? You can lose up to 40% of your body heat from your head. The body can only product so much heat. What that limit is reached, it can produce heat no faster. If heat is taken away faster than it can be produced, the body starts to cool down.
- Keep moving.
- Drink plenty of fluids (avoid caffeine and alcohol). Even in cold weather, our body can become dehydrated.
- Eat high protein meals (meats, eggs, dairy, nuts, beans) - this is "fuel for the oven."
- Take regular breaks in a warm area.