OSHA News

Jan 2020

We are officially in the Winter Season and the cold weather is here.  I know most of the time we talk about Heat Stress but Cold Stress is a thing and should be talked about and implemented in the workplace.

Cold Stress can lead to fatalities in the workplace. Thankfully, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA has laid out guidelines to ensure the safety of employees exposed to extreme conditions.

What is considered cold?

 

  • Wetness or Dampness: If a person gets wet, the body loses heat when it evaporates the water in the surface of the skin. Coupled with cold weather, dampness can be near-fatal.
  • Wind Chill: Similar to dampness, wind chill can exacerbate cold conditions. High wind speed in combination with low temperatures can make work conditions dangerous.
  • Employee’s Current Health Condition: Certain illnesses like hypertension and diabetes can act up during extreme climate conditions.
  • Employee’s Preparedness: Layers can help minimize the effect of extreme cold. Wearing the proper clothing and protective gear can affect how much the weather can affect an individual.

When exposed to cold weather, the body uses its energy to keep internal temperatures stable. However, if extreme conditions do not change, the body would try to protect internal organs and redirect blood flow to the chest cavity — leaving extremities like the arms and legs left to the cold. Shivering also occurs as the body tries to increase heat production.

Symptoms of cold stress

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • trench foot.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the body experiences a steep drop in temperature. This condition often occurs when a person is exposed to cold weather conditions he or she is not prepared for. While mostly associated during the winter months, there are actually more incidents of hypothermia during spring and fall. A person is considered suffering from hypothermia when their internal temperature drops to anywhere <95°F.

In normal conditions, the heart and the lungs produce most of the body’s heat. When a person experiences cold stress, the body cools down and these organs produce less heat. This protective shut down is designed in order to conserve body heat and protect the brain. At this point, the body would continue to shiver in order to increase body heat. However, over time, shivering would cease as the body’s regulation system begins to fail.

Aside from shivering, symptoms of hypothermia include shallow breathing, confusion, exhaustion, slurred speech, coordination problems, and a weak pulse.

Frostbite

When the body is experiencing cold temperatures, it tries to protect internal organs by directing blood flow to the chest cavity. While it keeps the body from expiring, the extremities are collateral damage, often because of frostbite.

Frostbite is a condition when the body tissue, usually in the fingers and toes, freezes. This condition can be temporary and certain body parts can be rewarmed. However, if deep tissue dies, the amputation of the affected part might be necessary.

Symptoms of frostbite can include pain in the affected area eventually numbing as the cold sets in deeper, discoloration, and blistering especially in severe cases.

Trench Foot

Trench Foot was first identified during World War I when soldiers from both sides of the war were exposed to cold, wet conditions that prevented them from keeping their feet dry. While the condition seems innocuous, Trench Foot claimed the lives of over 70,000 soldiers during wartime.

This condition occurs when the feet get wet and it doesn’t get dried properly. Trench Foot is different from frostbite since it isn’t necessarily the temperature that worsens the affliction. Wearing wet socks for long periods of time, however, does.

Symptoms include redness, the appearance of blisters, blotchy skin, and dried, cracking skin. In extreme cases, Trench Foot can result in permanent nerve damage and eventually amputation.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM COLD STRESS?

OSHA’s Cold Stress safety guidelines have laid out several measures employees can take before working in extreme conditions.

  • Review Workplace Training on Cold Stress
  • Inspect Engineering Safety Precautions
  • Wear Protective Clothing
  • Adjust your Work Habits

WHAT CAN YOU DO IN AN EMERGENCY?

In a cold stress emergency, the first step is to call for emergency medical assistance. While waiting, take off the victim’s wet or damp clothing and replace it with dry clothes. It’s important to keep the victim warm by using blankets and other thick materials. If the victim is conscious, give them warm, decaffeinated, sweetened drinks. In cases of frostbite, prevent rubbing or walking on the area(s) afflicted.

Cold stress is real and can be fatal. Take safety precautions and talk to your employees.