Winter weather poses a number of safety risks, particularly for employees who spend a lot of time working outdoors. Prolonged time in the cold may result in serious ailments or even death. Injuries and illnesses associated with exposure to extreme cold include:
Frostbite—This condition occurs when the skin is exposed to cold or windy weather or comes into contact with cold objects or surfaces. Common symptoms include numbness; red skin with gray, white or bluish patches; hardened skin; and skin that blisters after being warmed.
Hypothermia—This condition occurs when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include shivering, confusion, brain fog, slow breathing, low energy or fatigue, bright red skin, loss of coordination and slurred speech.
Trench foot—This condition occurs when the foot is exposed to wet and cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time. Common symptoms include swelling; numbness; cold, blotchy and red skin; itching or burning sensations in the foot; and a feeling of heaviness in the appendage.
Any employees who can’t avoid working outdoors in cold temperatures may be at risk of these ailments. The likelihood of cold weather-related injuries and illnesses may be heightened among workers who take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or have specific health problems (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease). To keep yourself safe while working in cold weather, consider the following tips:
- Wear several layers of loose clothing.
- Ensure your ears, face, hands and feet are protected.
- Wear waterproof and insulated boots.
- Take frequent, short breaks in warm areas.
- Drink hot beverages and eat warm, high-calorie foods before working and during breaks.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold weather-related ailments to help identify them in yourself and among co-workers on the job.
Talk to your supervisor for more information on working safely in cold weather.
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