If you’re lucky enough to be reading this in sunny California or Florida you might not know what I’m talking about but for our readers in the rest of the country, it’s cold. Dangerously cold. “Day After Tomorrow” polar-vortex cold. That means workers who are outside are much more susceptible to cold-related injuries and hazards, aka cold stress.
Just like extreme heat, extreme cold should be viewed with extra precautions. There are several common kinds of cold stress to watch out for, according to the Center for Disease Control site.
-Hypothermia: In this situation your body loses heat faster than you can produce heat. Prolonged exposure to the cold can result in hypothermia, an abnormally low body temp that results in fatigue, confusion and disorientation. Get these workers inside immediately while you wait for help and warm them with blankets or even warm beverages.
-Cold Water Immersion: This is like hypothermia but develops much sooner, because water takes heat away from the body 25 times faster than air. Make sure if you’re working around cold water you have the proper flotation gear on site and have a way to get out of the water quickly if necessary.
-Frostbite: Your body is freezing and you can start to feel numbness or tingling in the affected area. Frostbite affects extremities like your nose, ears, fingers and toes first. This can happen to workers who are not properly dressed or who have low blood circulation. Make sure to move this person into a warm room but do not expose them to hot or boiling water or things like a heating pad. They will be too numb to notice if the temperature if too hot and they might get burned as a result. Use body heat to warm them up but do not rub the affected area (for example, if your fingers are frostbitten hold them under your armpit to warm them rather than vigorously rubbing them).
-Trench foot: This results from long exposure of your feet to wet and cold conditions. It can even occur at temperatures up to 60 degrees if your feet are constantly wet. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet so make sure you change your socks and shoes consistently if you are working in wet and cold conditions. Blackfoot isn’t cute on anybody, even Mr. Deeds.
Besides the cold, another factor to watch out for is extreme wind. Make sure things like trash bins or rogue boxes and containers are secured. An empty container seems innocent enough until it’s hurtling at you at 25 mph.
I am the world’s biggest weenie when it comes to cold weather. I wear wool socks from October to March and would not put up with working outside in any conditions less than 60 degrees. For those who have more fortitude than I remember to make sure you and your co-workers are staying warm and dry in this weather. Employers should provide warm areas and allow for breaks and relief workers to take over. If conditions are too crazy consider letting your employees stay home for a day or two. It’s not worth the risk. If your co-workers are like my brothers and give you a hard time about taking breaks, remind them that at the end of the day it’s cooler to be the one who has all 10 fingers and toes.