We have already touched on some of the hazards that come with Winter, which you can read more about here, but it is important that we continue to do in-depth discussions about winter hazards. High winds are only one of the dangers that come with Winter, but the silent danger is the cold temperature. Both workers and employers need to understand that hypothermia and frostbite are serious safety hazards and need to be treated as such.
When one has worked in the cold for long enough their body becomes susceptible to cold stress, hypothermia, and frostbite, and trench foot. Each of these is a serious health hazard that should be taken seriously if discovered.
According to OSHA, cold stress occurs when the body is no longer able to maintain the proper core temperature (98° F). Cold stress can lead to hypothermia and frostbite if not properly taken care of. During cold stress, the body begins to shift from the hands and feet to the more important parts of the body such as the chest and abdomen. This shift causes the other parts of the body to begin to cool rapidly leading to hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia, according to OSHA, occurs when the body loses heat so rapidly that it cannot replace it.
- The person will appear stressed or alert
- The person will be shivering, rubbing, walking, or stomping to generate heat
Symptoms (Moderate – Severe):
- Loss of coordination, confusion, disorientation
- Slowed breathing and pulse
- Loss of consciousness
If the symptoms are not taken seriously, death is possible. Immediate action is necessary in order to combat hypothermia.
- Move the person to a warm, dry area
- If they are conscious, give them warm drinks to help increase body temperature
- Place warm packs under armpits, sides of chest, and groin
- If their situation worsens, call 911 immediately.
Frostbite, according to OSHA, is an injury where the body and underlying tissue freezes. In severe cases, amputation may be required.
- gray or white patches occur on the affected area
- affected areas will feel numb
- the area feels firm/stiff or hard
- In severe cases, blisters may occur on the affected area
- Place the victim in a warm area, but do not try to rewarm the affected area. If the rewarmed area gets frozen again further tissue damage can occur. Instead, after placing the victim in a warm area, call 911 immediately and wait for medical professionals to arrive.
Trench foot, OSHA states, is a condition where the feet are exposed to cold, wet conditions for extended periods of time.
- The affected area will experience redness, numbness, swelling, and blisters in worst-case scenarios.
- Remove shoes and wet socks immediately
- Dry the feet and place in a warm area
- Call 911 in extreme cases
All these injuries should be taken seriously, and medical treatment should be sought out as soon as possible. It is important that both workers and employers receive proper training to prepare for these dangers, and that both parties can recognize the beginning symptoms of cold stress in order to prevent hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. Winter is a dangerous time for construction workers therefore, it is up to not only the employers to ensure their workers have a warm area, proper equipment, and training, but also up to fellow workers to make sure each other are safe and following the proper regulations. If you have any questions regarding the above, please do not hesitate to reach out to us! We are willing to answer any and all of your questions!