When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Low temperatures combined with wind speed and wetness can lead to injuries and illnesses.
FROSTBITE – Freezing in deep layers of skin and tissue; pale, waxy-white skin color; skin becomes hard and numb; usually affects the fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears, and nose.
What Should be Done:
- Move the person to a warm dry area. Don’t leave the person alone.
- Remove any wet or tight clothing that may cut off blood flow to the affected area.
- DO NOT rub the affected area, because rubbing causes damage to the skin and tissue.
- Gently place the affected area in a warm (105Â°F) water bath and monitor the water temperature to slowly warm the tissue. Don’t pour warm water directly on the affected area because it will warm the tissue too fast causing tissue damage. Warming takes about 25-40 minutes. After the affected area has been warmed, it may become puffy and blister. The affected area may have a burning feeling or numbness. When normal feeling, movement, and skin color have returned, the affected area should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm.NOTE: If there is a chance the affected area may get cold again, do not warm the skin. If the skin is warmed and then becomes cold again, it will cause severe tissue damage.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
HYPOTHERMIA –Normal body temperature (98.6° f ) drops to or below 95°f; fatigue or drowsiness; uncontrolled shivering; cool bluish skin; slurred speech; clumsy movements; irritable, irrational or confused behavior.
What Should be Done:
- Call for emergency help (i.e., Ambulance or Call 911).
- Move the person to a warm, dry area. Don’t leave the person alone. Remove any wet clothing and replace with warm, dry clothing or wrap the person in blankets.
- Have the person drink warm, sweet drinks (sugar water or sports-type drinks) if they are alert. Avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, or hot chocolate) or alcohol.
- Have the person move their arms and legs to create muscle heat. If they are unable to do this, place warm bottles or hot packs in the arm pits, groin, neck, and head areas. DO NOT rub the person’s body or place them in warm water bath. This may stop their heart.
How to Protect Yourself
- Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that lead to potential cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses/injuries and what to do to help the worker.
- Train the workforce about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions. Layer clothing to adjust to changing environmental temperatures. Wear a hat and gloves, in addition to underwear that will keep water away from the skin (polypropylene).
- Take frequent short breaks in warm dry shelters to allow the body to warm up.
- Perform work during the warmest part of the day.
- Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
- Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks). Avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, or hot chocolate) or alcohol.
- Eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.
At Risk Workers:
- They have predisposing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
- They take certain medication (check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacy and ask if any medicines you are taking affect you while working in cold environments).
- They are in poor physical condition, have a poor diet, or are older.