As the temperatures drop, you must be sure to stay safe when working on your jobsite. It is also imperative that you ensure your crew is safe at all times. ‘Cold stress injuries’ cover those illnesses and injuries that occur as a result of exposure to extreme cold and include frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot.
Prevention is Better than Cure
The best way to keep you and your crew safe this winter is to ensure that they are always wearing appropriate gear. Watch the weather so that you know when the dangers are higher, especially when wind chill is a factor. You can consult the wind chill calculator from the National Weather Service.
Know your crew; when workers have pre-existing conditions like diabetes, hypertension or hypothyroidism, they are at a greater risk of cold stress injuries.
Provide protection from the wind, and heated spaces where possible. If your crew must be exposed to the elements, give them regular breaks in a warm space and hot, sweet drinks (no alcohol).
Being able to recognize the symptoms of cold stress injuries and illnesses will help you to catch them at the start, so you can get the help you need. It’s imperative that you regularly check in with crew members too. Cold affects cognitive abilities, so they may not realize that they are succumbing to a cold stress injury.
The following guide on the symptoms of cold stress injuries comes from OSHA. If you identify symptoms, get your crew member into a warm place immediately. Call 911 and get medical attention. Let them drink warm, sweet drinks until help arrives.
Normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to 95°F or less.
- Mild Symptoms: alert but shivering.
- Moderate to Severe Symptoms: shivering stops; confusion; slurred speech; heart rate/breathing slow; loss of consciousness; death.
Move the worker to a warm place. If clothing is wet, change to dry clothes. Cover with blankets and something to protect them from the wind like a tarp or garbage bag. Apply heat packs to the armpits, sides of chest, neck, and groin.
Body tissues freeze, e.g., hands and feet. Can occur at temperatures above freezing, due to wind chill. May result in amputation.
- Symptoms: numbness, reddened skin develops gray/white patches, feels firm/hard, and may blister.
Follow the same rewarming instructions as above. Do not apply snow or water to frostbitten areas. Do not walk on frostbitten feet. Do not rewarm area unless instructed to do so by a medical professional. Lightly cover frostbitten areas to warm gently until help arrives. Don’t break blisters.
Trench Foot (also known as Immersion Foot)
Non-freezing injury to the foot, caused by lengthy exposure to wet and cold environment. Can occur at air temperature as high as 60°F, if feet are constantly wet.
- Symptoms: redness, swelling, numbness, and blisters.
Remove wet shoes and socks and dry feet. Keep the feet elevated and avoid walking. Seek medical help.