Winter is coming, and prepping workers for cold temperatures should start well before the first snowflake falls. Proper PPE should include multiple layers of protection, both moisture-wicking and wind-resistant, as well as gloves and hard hat liners.
Dressing improperly, wetness/dampness and preexisting conditions can contribute to cold stress and hypothermia, a condition that occurs when the body’s temperature begins to fall to dangerous levels, resulting in tissue damage and even death.
Wind speed and air temperature should both be taken into account. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 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.
If a worker is showing signs of hypothermia, the CDC recommends the following steps to take:
- Call 911 immediately in an emergency; otherwise seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
- Move the person to a warm, dry area.
- Remove wet clothes and replace with dry clothes, cover the body (including the head and neck) with layers of blankets; and with a vapor barrier (e.g. tarp, garbage bag). Do not cover the face.
- If medical help is more than 30 minutes away:
- Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol), to help increase the body temperature. Never try to give a drink to an unconscious person.
- Place warm bottles or hot packs in armpits, sides of chest, and groin. Call 911 for additional re-warming instructions.
- If a person is not breathing or has no pulse:
- Call 911 for emergency medical assistance immediately.
- Treat the worker as per instructions for hypothermia, but be very careful and do not try to give an unconscious person fluids.
- Check him/her for signs of breathing and for a pulse. Check for 60 seconds.
- If after 60 seconds the affected worker is not breathing and does not have a pulse, trained workers may start rescue breaths for 3 minutes.
- Recheck for breathing and pulse, check for 60 seconds.
- If the worker is still not breathing and has no pulse, continue rescue breathing.
- Only start chest compressions per the direction of the 911 operator or emergency medical services*
- Reassess patient’s physical status periodically.
Recognizing the symptoms of hypothermia could prevent worker injury and death. The Mayo Clinic identifies the signs of hypothermia employees with which the should be familiar when working in cold environments.