Knowing how to avoid cold stress and hypothermia is extremely important, especially when you’re working outdoors in the winter season. Your body can suffer from cold stress because of five things:
- Cold environment
- Wind which draws heat from the body
- Damp clothing from sweat or water
- Getting immersed in cold water which draws heat from the body 25 times faster than cold air
- Fatigue which causes the body to create heat more slowly than usual
Hypothermia, a potentially fatal condition where the body loses heat faster than it can create heat, can be caused by severe cold stress. It comes on slowly, so detecting early warning signs is extremely important. As an employer, it is necessary to take steps to keep your employees safe by reducing the risk factors.
The three stages of hypothermia and the common symptoms of each are listed below:
- Trembling or shivering
- Incapable of paying attention
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Mumbled words
- Body discoordination
- Unable to breathe
- Weak pulse
Reducing the Risks
Controlling the risks in the workplace will decrease the chances of injury or illness.
Elimination or Substitution
- Completely eliminating what causes the exposure to the risks is the best way to control the hazard.
- Is it possible to have the work done in a safer environment?
- Can a process be changed to reduce the exposure?
Ask yourself the following questions to see if you can make alterations to the process, facility and apparatus used in order to reduce risks:
- Is it possible to construct heated warming shelters for the use of workers?
- Can equipment be modified so that usage can be easy even when workers wear their gloves or mittens as they work?
Administrative controls include changes to rules and regulations at the workplace so that safer practices can be kept. This can also include training, posting awareness materials, and considering work rotation schedules so that risks of cold stress can be avoided or minimized.
Personal Protective Equipment
These aren’t as effective as the other controls listed above, but they are still important to consider:
- Can battery-operated heaters or chemical heating pads be placed under a worker’s clothing?
- Are workers wearing the proper protective clothing (head covering and layered clothing)?
- Is the personal protective gear that workers are wearing functional?
Working Safety Solutions
#200-4170 Still Creek Drive, Burnaby, B.C.