Working in the Cold

Working in the Cold

Introduction

Cold temperatures and weather are a staple in Canada. Rain, wind, snow and ice are all natural and normal occurrences. Working in cold weather is dangerous for workers whether it is an indoor or outdoor work environment. Indoor work environments include industrial coolers and freezers and arenas. Outdoor work environments include construction sites, hydro and electrical work outdoors and delivery drivers.

In accordance with Regulation 851 – Industrial Establishments Section 129, an enclosed workplace shall be at a temperature not less than 18 degrees Celsius. This does not apply to a workplace:

  • That is not normally heated
  • That is impractical to heat
  • That is used to store perishable goods
  • Where it would cause the worker discomfort to raise the temperature to that level
  • Where process heat is used to help heat the building (during the first hour of the main operating shift starting up)

Potential Injury Concerns

Cold Stress

Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur and permanent tissue damage and death may result.

Hypothermia

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold eventually uses up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and will not be able to do anything about it. Symptoms of hypothermia can vary. Early symptoms include shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination, confusion and disorientation. Late symptoms include no shivering, blue skin, dilated pupils, slowed pulse and breathing and loss of consciousness.

Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissues and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in workers with reduced blood circulation and among workers who are not dressed properly. Symptoms include reduced blood flow to hands and feet, numbness, tingling or stinging, aching and

Trench foot, or immersion foot, is an injury of the feet resulting from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Trench foot can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees F if the feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet. To prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die because of lack of oxygen and nutrients and due to the buildup of toxic products. Symptoms include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain, blisters/ulcers, bleeding under the skin and gangrene. 

Trench Foot

Trench foot, or immersion foot, is an injury of the feet resulting from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Trench foot can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees F if the feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet. To prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die because of lack of oxygen and nutrients and due to the buildup of toxic products. Symptoms include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain, blisters/ulcers, bleeding under the skin and gangrene.

Protective Measures

Employers should take the following steps to protect workers from cold stress:

  • Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas for warmer months.
  • Schedule cold jobs for the warmer part of the day.
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers.
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
  • Provide warm liquids to workers.
  • Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.
  • Provide cold stress training that includes information about:
    • Worker risk
    • Prevention
    • Symptoms
    • The importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms
    • Treatment
    • Personal protective equipment

Workers should avoid exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, workers should:

  • Wear appropriate clothing.
  • Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
  • Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities.
  • When choosing clothing, be aware some clothing may restrict movement.
  • Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands and feet in extremely cold weather.
  • Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
  • Wear a hat; it will keep your whole body warmer. (Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.)
  • Move into warm locations during work breaks; limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
  • Carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, blankets, a change of clothes and a thermos of hot liquid.
  • Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
  • Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Turtle necks/sweaters in layers
  • Polar fleece or other insulating jacket/vest
  • Polar fleece or other insulated pants
  • Socks
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Insulated footwear

Emergency Procedures

Hypothermia First Aid

  • Alert the supervisor and request medical assistance.
  • Move the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove their wet clothing.
  • Warm the center of their body first-chest, neck, head, and groin-using an electric blanket, if available; or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages may help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After their body temperature has increased, keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • If victim has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Trench Foot First Aid

  • Remove shoes/boots and wet socks.
  • Dry their feet.
  • Avoid walking on feet as this may cause tissue damage.

Frostbite First Aid

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes-this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm-not hot-water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Warm the affected area using body heat; for example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub or massage the frostbitten area; doing so may cause more damage.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

 

Heartzap Safety’s Standard First Aid training course provides more information about Environmental Emergencies including treatment for Hypothermia and Frostbite. Contact Heartzap Safety — your health and safety company—if you’re interested in getting started.

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