People working in extreme weather environments may experience damage due to cold stress. This is a blanket term for when the body can’t maintain a healthy temperature due to prolonged exposure to temperatures below about 8°C.
To avoid danger, people rely on behavioural thermoregulation. When facing the bitter cold, they seek shelter and clothing that will protect them. People instinctively know they must avoid prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures.
In a cold environment, the body expends great energy to keep warm. Steady core temperature is essential to survival. Therefore, blood flow (and heat) is shifted from the extremities. Fingers, toes, and even limbs are sacrificed to keep the chest and abdomen warm.
Prolonged exposure to severe cold can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains.
Alcohol, fatigue and open wounds increase the risk of hypothermia, which occurs when the body loses more heat than it produces. Early symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, lack of coordination, and cold, pale skin.
Frostbite occurs when the skin and underlying tissue freeze. Symptoms include cold and tingling or stinging followed by numbness. Trench foot and chilblains are more likely under cold and wet conditions.
While each of these conditions are dangerous, they are only the tip of the iceberg. According to a report by Public Health England, exposure to extremely cold weather increased incidents of heart attack, stroke, flu, respiratory disease, falls, and injury.
In the last 5 years, there have been 168,000 cold-related deaths in the U.K. Wet conditions and high or cold wind exacerbate the risk.
People who work in cold weather include those in the construction, agricultural, security, and commercial fishing industries. At particular risk are those who work without breaks, older people and those with heart-related health issues.
There are several things employers can advise workers to do to protect themselves. First, they can wear at least three layers of clothing. The outer layer acts as a windbreak. It should be durable but ventilated.
The middle layer insulates and should also absorb sweat. The inner layer should be well-ventilated to allow moisture to escape so skin remains dry. In general, loose clothing is better than tight garments.
Areas that may require extra protection include the top of the head as well as ears, face, hands and feet. In extreme cases, eye protection may be required. Footwear should be waterproof.
For people working outdoors in the cold, shifts should be scheduled for the warmest part of the day. The time workers spend outdoors should be limited.
Additionally, warm liquids provide relief on a cold day, so providing them to workers can be helpful. To avoid too much caffeine, green and herbal teas, decaffeinated coffee or hot broth might be good options.
Finally, it’s important to pay attention to weather reports, wind chill factors and other data and schedule work accordingly. Be aware of the symptoms listed above and pay special attention to those who are older or have heart issues so that you can help keep them safe.
Bio This is a smaller section of a larger guide about working in cold environments, Many will work in cold temperatures this winter and there are many things that employers and employees can do to protect themselves.