Hypothermia (lowered body temperature), due to excessive loss of body heat, can be fatal. When suffering hypothermia, victims do not recognize their own signs of the condition; it is critical for co-workers to be aware of and react to signs of hypothermia in those they work with. It can be a matter of life and death!
Working alone in extreme cold conditions is not advised. Using the “buddy system” to recognize signs of cold injury in a co-worker is recommended.
Exposed body extremities, fingers, noses, toes, ears and cheeks are especially susceptible to frostbite. While the rest of the body can remain warm and unaffected, the extremities suffer from a poor blood supply in extreme cold, leading to hardness and numbing without the victim realizing what is happening.
Dangers of Cold Exposure
- Too much heat loss can cause lowered core body temperatures leading to hypothermia
- Freezing of exposed body parts
- Cold air is dry and can cause loss of body fluid and dry skin
- Those suffering from arthritis or rheumatism suffer more pain
- Working in cold conditions increases the risk of back injury and other musculoskeletal injuries
- Cold affects dexterity, mobility and muscle power, which affect and slow motor skills
- Mental skills, coordination and response times are affected in extreme cold
- Using power tools and equipment require extra caution in cold conditions
- Cold tool handles reduce grip force
- Cold exposure aggravates hand/arm vibration syndrome making manual work painful
Extreme cold temperatures combined with wind drastically increases the dangers of working outside. Expose body parts freeze within one minute at -29o C (-20o F) at a wind speed of 8 km/h (5mph). If the wind increases to 32km/h (20mph) flesh will freeze at -12o (+10o F). This makes it imperative to pay attention to wind chill reports.
- Wear multiple layers of light, loose-fitting clothes. Air between the layers provides adds warmth. Outerwear should be waterproof.
- Wear cold weather or arctic wear clothing rated for the temperatures to be worked in.
- Wear mittens instead of gloves if possible; they are warmer.
- Wear a warm head covering that covers the ears to prevent heat loss from the head. As much as 40% of body heat can be lost from an uncovered head!
- Use an appropriate hard hat liner to reduce heat loss.
- Wear woolen socks and carry an extra pair when moisture and sweat are likely.
- Wear slip-resistant, insulated safety footwear. For heavy work, a felt-lined, rubber bottomed boot is recommended.
- Wear appropriate sunglasses to protect eyes from UV rays on bright days.
- Wear a scarf or face mask while working in cold wind.
- DO NOT wear dirty, oily clothing which loses its insulation value.
- DO NOT wear gloves, scarves or loose clothing that can get caught in moving parts of machinery.