As we are experiencing extremely cold, dangerous weather, possible health emergencies are a reality for those who work in poorly insulated or wet, damp areas, or without heat. Whenever temperatures drop, especially below normal, and as wind speeds increase, heat escapes the body much more rapidly. These weather-related conditions may lead to serious health problems.
Factors that increase the likelihood of developing cold stress include:
- Wetness or dampness
- Pre-existing health conditions like hypertension, (high blood pressure) and diabetesPoor physical conditioning
- Improper winter apparel
Hypothermia, which can be fatal, is a gradual process which happens slowly. Workers may not realize they are in danger until it's too late. Feeling cold is the most important warning sign. If workers feel cold, their bodies are likely losing heat faster than their bodies are making it.
There are three stages of hypothermia. Here are the key warning signs for each stage:
- Poor judgment or confused thinking
- Violent shivering
- Inability to think or pay attention
- Slow, shallow breathingSlurred speech
- Poor body coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Little or no breathing
- Weak irregular, or non-existent pulse
What can be done for a person suffering from hypothermia?
- 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.
- 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 rewarming instructions.