Hazard Alert! Cold Stress

By Laurel Woodhouse, Health and Safety Manager

What’s the Danger?

When you’re cold, blood vessels in your skin, arms and legs constrict, decreasing the blood flow to your arms and legs.  This helps your critical organs stay warm, but you risk frostbite in your extremities.

Cold-related illness and injuries can cause permanent tissue damage or death.  The toe, fingers, ears and nose are at the greatest risk because they do not have major muscles to produce heat.

Controls

Adjust the pace or rate of work – not too low that a person becomes cold, nor too high and cause heavy sweating or wet clothing.

Allow time for new workers to become accustomed to the conditions.

Make sure that protective clothing is worn at or below 4°C. including layers of warm clothing, with an outer layer that is wind-resistant, a hat, mittens or insulated gloves, scarf, neck tube or face mask and insulated waterproof footwear.

Frostbite

Occurs when tissue temperature falls below the freezing point or when blood flow is obstructed; symptoms include inflammation of the skin in patches and slight pain.  In severe cases, there could be tissue damage without pain or burning or prickling sensations that result in blisters.

Treatment

  • Get medical aid.
  • Warm the area with body heat—do not rub.
  • Don’t thaw hands and feet unless medical aid is far away and there’s no chance of refreezing. It’s best to thaw body parts at a hospital.

Hypothermia

Is the most severe cold injury. The excessive loss of body heat can be fatal.  

Moderate symptoms • Shivering • Blue lips and fingers • Slow breathing and heart rate • Disorientation and confusion • Poor coordination

Severe symptoms • Unconsciousness • Heart slowdown to the point where pulse is irregular or hard to find • No shivering • No detectable breathing. Although these symptoms resemble death, always assume the person is alive.

Treatment

  • Hypothermia can kill—get medical aid immediately.
  • Carefully move the person to a shelter. Sudden movement can upset heart rhythm.
  • Keep the person awake. Remove any wet clothing and wrap them in warm covers.
  • Move workers to a heated shelter and seek medical advice.

Identify Controls

  1. Survey and monitor the temperature
  2. Train managers, supervisor and workers on symptoms, safe work practices, rewarming procedures, proper clothing practices, and what to do in case of cold injury.
  3. Use buddy system to watch for symptoms in others.
  4. Wear several layers of clothing rather than one thick layer to capture air as an insulator.
  5. Wear synthetic fabrics next to the skin to “wick” away sweat.  
  6. If conditions require, wear a waterproof or wind-resistant outer layer.
  7. Wear warm gloves, hats, and hoods. You may also need a balaclava.
  8. Tight-fitting footwear restricts blood flow. You should be able to wear either one thick or two thin pairs of socks.
  9. If your clothing gets wet at 2°C or less, change into dry clothes immediately and get checked for hypothermia.
  10. If you get hot while working, open your jacket but keep your hat and gloves on.
  11. Take warm, high-calorie drinks and food.
  • Category: Executive/HQ/ICTS News

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