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As temperatures drop, make sure your team has everything they need to stay safe and comfortable on the job, without limiting their range of motion, visibility, or dexterity.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to create a safe work environment by protecting their teams against a range of hazards, including cold stress.
Part of creating a safe work environment in cold temperatures includes knowing the signs and symptoms of cold stress illnesses and injuries and providing the proper winter working gear to stay warm. Global Industrial can help you prepare your team for cold weather by offering tips and solutions to keep away the chill.
Understand What Causes Cold-Weather Injuries
Cold stress occurs when body temperature decreases dramatically. This can lead to serious cold-related ailments, such as immersion, frostbite, and hypothermia — all of which can permanently damage body tissue, or worse. Factors that contribute to cold stress include:
- Increased wind speed, or the “wind chill effect,” which causes heat to quickly leave the body.
- Wetness or dampness, including sweat, that also can result in bodily heat loss.
- Pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and hypothyroidism, which can make workers more susceptible to cold-weather issues.
- Poor physical conditioning, which can result in decreased blood flow, heightened exhaustion, and muscle cramping.
Keep in mind that the term “cold weather” translates differently depending on what part of the country you’re located. Workers accustomed to hot and humid southern climates, for example, may be unprepared during unusually low temperatures or snowfall, while those in northern climes may just need to update well-worn winter workwear after a few seasons.
Spot and Treat Cold-Stress Injuries
Working in the cold for long periods of time will tire workers out. Ensure you and your workers understand the telltale signs of immersion, hypothermia, frostbite, so you can seek medical treatment.
Immersion, also known as “trench foot,” occurs with prolonged exposure to cold, moist conditions. Wet feet chill 25 times faster, so it’s important they stay warm and dry. Immersion can happen in temperatures of up to 60 F if feet remain constantly wet, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Symptoms of immersion include reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, numbness, blisters, and leg cramps. Should these indicators arise, immediately remove wet shoes and socks, dry the feet, keep them elevated, and seek medical assistance.
Hypothermia occurs when a person’s internal temperature drops below 95 F, causing the body to lose heat faster. Hypothermia usually occurs in extremely cold conditions; however, it also can develop at temps above 40 F if there’s constant exposure to rain, sweat, or cold water.
Signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, slow breathing or heart rate, and unconsciousness.
To treat hypothermia, move the worker to a warm, dry area, and remove any wet clothing or working gear. Then wrap the entire body in layers of blankets with a vapor barrier, such as a tarp, on the outermost exterior. In the case of hypothermia, if medical help is more than 30 minutes away, OSHA advises using warm, sweet beverages and hot packs to help increase body temperature.
Frostbite materializes when skin or tissue freezes, potentially causing permanent damage. In severe cases, frostbite can result in amputation. Workers with reduced blood circulation or those without the right working gear for extreme cold are at high risk of frostbite.
A sign of frostbite is reddening skin that develops gray or white patches. This can occur on the fingers, toes, nose, or earlobes.
If a worker suffers frostbite, follow recommendations for hypothermia. Also make sure to protect the area by loosely wrapping it in a dry cloth to discourage contact with other surfaces. Do not attempt to rub or warm up the area before medical professionals arrive.
Be sure to call 911 or quickly transport your worker to the hospital if advanced symptoms of any cold-weather-related injuries present. Also equip workers with basic life support knowledge, such as checking for a pulse, rescue breathing, and CPR.
Select the Correct Cold-Weather Layers
Staying warm in cold weather requires dressing strategically. To properly insulate the body, OSHA recommends layers of loose-fitting clothing and working gear made of high-quality materials.
- Start with a layer of moisture-wicking clothing to stay dry and help retain body heat.
- Add a long-sleeved base layer shirt and a sweatshirt or hoodie for additional insulation.
- Finish with a wind- and rain-resistant jacket or coat.
- Retain body heat with hats and face masks that cover your head and ears.
- Protect your hands with insulated, cold-resistant gloves to maintain dexterity and reduce the risk of frostbite.
- Consider an insulated vest to protect your core.
- Keep your feet warm with insulated boots.
- Attach ice traction devices to your shoes to prevent slipping and sliding.
- Stay safe in foggy or low-visibility conditions with bright, reflective clothing.
- Choose flame-resistant coveralls and visibility gear for environments where workers need protection against extreme heat, sparks, and flames.
Prevent Cold Stress
You know the old saying: “A pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure.” That holds true when protecting your workers against extremely cold weather conditions.
- Train all employees to recognize conditions that cause cold stress and how to help affected employees.
- Make sure everyone on site knows where to locate first aid supplies and life-saving devices.
- Ensure workers stay mentally and physically healthy on the job. Emotionally stressed employees are more susceptible to physical illness. And if an employee is pushing a cold or the flu, they’re at increased risk of developing more severe illnesses, such as pneumonia.
- Schedule work during the warmest parts of the day when colder seasons arrive. Plan regular breaks in warm, dry spaces.
- Consider incorporating industrial heaters and installing an all-purpose canopy in work or break areas.
- Watch the weather forecast. When severely cold temperatures approach, make sure workers dress appropriately or, if possible, adjust their work schedules to limit exposure to the elements.
- Have employees buddy up on the job so they can help each other identify cold stress.
The right working gear is essential for safe and productive work, particularly in cold or wet weather conditions. At Global Industrial, we’re committed to providing the best supplies to help you get the job done right. Contact our product experts to outfit your team in the cold-weather gear they need.
The information contained in this article is for informational, educational, and promotional purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. It is the reader’s responsibility to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, rules, codes and regulations. If there is any question or doubt in regard to any element contained in this article, please consult a licensed professional. Under no circumstances will Global Industrial® be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on this article.
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