Anyone working in a cold environment such as construction workers, can be at risk for cold stress.
In regions that are not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered “extreme cold.” A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. Whenever temperatures drop below normal and wind speed increases, heat can leave your body more rapidly.
Wind chill is the temperature your body feels when air temperature and wind speed are combined. For example, when the air temperature is 40°F, and the wind speed is 35 mph, the effect on the exposed skin is as if the air temperature was 28°F.
Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature (core temperature). This may lead to serious health problems, and may cause tissue damage, and possibly death.
Some of the risk factors that contribute to cold stress are:
• Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly, and exhaustion
• Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes
• Poor physical conditioning
How does the body react to cold conditions?
In a cold environment, most of the body’s energy is used to keep the internal core temperature warm. Over time, the body will begin to shift blood flow from the extremities (hands, feet, arms, and legs) and outer skin to the core (chest and abdomen). This shift allows the exposed skin and the extremities to cool rapidly and increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. Combine this scenario with exposure to a wet environment, and trench foot may also be a problem.
What are the most common cold induced illnesses/injuries?
• Hypothermia — occurs when body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°
• Frostbite — is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues.
• Trench Foot — or immersion foot is caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold temperatures. It can occur at temperatures as high as 60°F if the feet are constantly wet.
How can Cold Stress be prevented in the Workplace?
Dressing properly is extremely important to preventing cold stress. The type of fabric worn also makes a difference. Cotton loses its insulation value when it becomes wet. Wool, silk and most synthetics, on the other hand, retain their insulation even when wet. The following are recommendations for working in cold environments:
• Wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
• Do not wear tight fitting clothing.
• An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic to keep moisture away from the body.
• A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.
• An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
• Wear a hat or hood to help keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
• Use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth (if needed).
• Use insulated gloves to protect the hands (water resistant if necessary).
• Wear insulated and waterproof boots (or other footwear).
If you have any questions regarding prevention of cold related injuries for your employees we can help. Call us today! 888-540-0752