Safety Focus – Working in Cold Weather Conditions
The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold weather and immersion in cold water.
First Aid for Hypothermia
When working outdoors in cold weather conditions, the risk for hypothermia rises. This risk is particularly apparent for recreational workers, snow cleanup crews, construction workers, police officers, firefighters and other workers whose jobs require them to be outdoors in colder months. As such, it’s important to understand how to keep yourself and others as safe as possible in these conditions.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced and the normal body temperature (37 degrees Celsius) drops to or below 35 degrees Celsius. Hypothermia can occur when a person is exposed to extremely cold temperatures or even at mild temperatures (above 4 degrees Celsius) if a person becomes cold due to rain, sweat or submersion in frigid water. Common symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
Hypothermia can be life-threatening and, in some cases, result in death if it’s not treated in a timely manner. Thankfully, there are a number of steps to follow if you think you or a co-worker are experiencing hypothermia:
- Call 911.
- Move to a warm, dry area.
- Remove any wet clothing and replace it with dry clothing.
- Wrap the entire body in layers of blankets and a vapour barrier (e.g., a tarp or garbage bag).
In order to prevent hypothermia when working outdoors, follow these tips:
- Dress in layers—Wear loose-fitting, layered clothing—such as long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, a hat and boots to protect yourself from the cold.
- Get plenty of fuel—You need fluids and food to fuel your body and keep you warm while you work.
- Know the signs—Shivering, exhaustion and confusion are serious signs of hypothermia. Be sure to move to a warmer area and notify your supervisor if these symptoms occur.
If you have any questions about working safely in extreme cold, talk to your supervisor.
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Read also The Importance of Workplace Hygiene