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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in cold injuries

Despite relatively mild temperatures in many parts of the country early this winter, frozen precipitation and low temperatures are still a possibility for some time ahead – and are already hitting us. In a timely email post on “From the Director’s Desk”, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Director Dr. John Howard emphasized awareness of the potential for cold stress for anyone working outdoors.

"Don't assume there is no need to prepare for working safely in the cold this year, because of the moderate temperatures in much of the country so far,” Howard wrote. “According to the National Weather Service, the long-range weather forecast predicts chillier temperatures than average in January and February in the Southern Plains and the Southeast. Cold weather can bring on health emergencies for people who may be susceptible as a result of their working environment, such as those who work outdoors or in an area that is poorly insulated or without heat."

When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy, according to the resource-packed NIOSH page on the subject of cold stress. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A body temperature that is too low affects the 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 will not be able to do anything about it - (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/coldstress/).

In his post, Howard discussed the threat of cold stress this season: "What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, near-freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can more rapidly leave your body, leading to cold-related injuries and illnesses." This includes hypothermia, cold water immersion, frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains.

He offered the following tips for to reduce the risk of cold-related health problems at work:

For employers:
-Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas for warmer months.
-Schedule cold jobs for the warmest part of the day.
-Reduce the physical demands of workers.
-Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
-Provide warm liquids to workers.
-Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
-Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.
-Provide cold stress training.

For workers:
-Wear appropriate clothing.
-Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
-Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities.
-Choose clothing that won't restrict movement, which could lead to a hazardous situation.
-Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands, and feet in extremely cold weather.
-Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
-Wear a hat; it will keep your whole body warmer.
-Move into warm locations during work breaks. Limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
-Carry cold-weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, and blankets; a change of clothes; and a thermos of hot liquid.
-Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
-Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
-Monitor your physical condition and that of your co-workers.

Tagged in: cold injuries NIOSH

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Heat stress is a very real and very serious issue in workplace safety. For some occupations, so is cold stress.

Workers who are exposed to extreme cold or work in cold environments may be at risk of cold stress. Extreme cold weather is a dangerous situation that can lead to health emergencies in susceptible people – those without shelter, outdoor workers, and those who work in an area that is poorly insulated or without heat.

What exactly constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary from region to region. Temperatures that drop significantly below normal along with increasing wind speeds can rapidly rob the body of heat. That means that places that are relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, even near freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. Such weather-related conditions may lead to serious health problems.

"When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy,” according to the resource-filled National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) page on the subject of cold stress, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/coldstress/. “The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A body temperature that is too low affects the 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 will not be able to do anything about it."

The page describes early and late hypothermia symptoms and the correct first aid measures for a worker with hypothermia:
-Alert the supervisor and request medical assistance.
-Move the victim into a warm room or shelter.
-Remove their wet clothing.
-Warm the center of their body first-chest, neck, head, and groin-using an electric blanket, if available; or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
-Warm beverages may help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
-After their body temperature has increased, keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
-If victim has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

On its page providing guidance for interpreting its weather advisories, watches, warnings and bulletins (http://www.noaa.gov/features/03_protecting/winter.html), the National Weather Service page quotes meteorologist John Koch: "Thousands of people die every year in weather-related traffic accidents. The best way to avoid a tragedy is to be aware of weather conditions and limit travel when hazardous weather conditions exist." NWS advises motorists to do the following before driving in winter weather conditions, especially if watches or warnings or have been issued in your locale:
-Keep the gas tank full to keep the fuel line from freezing.
-Let someone know your destination, route, and when you expect to arrive.
-Keep a cell phone or other emergency communication device with you.
-Pack your vehicle with thermal blankets, extra winter clothes, basic tool kit, (including a good knife and jumper cables), an ice scraper and shovel, flashlights or battery-powered lanterns with extra batteries, and high calorie, nonperishable food and water.
-Use sand or kitty litter under your tires for extra traction, especially if you find yourself stuck in a slippery spot.

Being temporarily stuck – but safe – might only seem like cold comfort, but it’s far better than the serious health problems that can arise from cold stress.

Tagged in: cold injuries OSHA

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