Ontario's Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) is reminding employers of the dangers of cold stress and how to prevent it among the workforce.
When workers are cold, blood vessels in the skin, arms and legs constrict, decreasing the blood flow to the extremities. This helps critical organs stay warm, but increases the risk frostbite. Frostbitten skin looks waxy and feels numb. Once tissue becomes hard, it’s a medical emergency. Treatment includes getting medical aid and warming the area with body heat.
Wind chill poses another danger as the wind accelerates heat loss. For example, when the air temperature is –30 C with 16 km/h wind, the skin can freeze in about one minute, says IHSA.
Hypothermia is another risk. Symptoms range from shivering and blue lips and fingers to unconsciousness. Treatment includes getting immediate medical aid offering the victim warm, sweet drinks and wrapping him in warm covers.
Tips for controlling cold stress include:
• Wear several layers of clothing rather than one thick layer to capture air as an insulator.
• Wear synthetic fabrics next to the skin to “wick” away sweat.
• Wear warm gloves.
• Tight-fitting footwear restricts blood flow. You should be able to wear either one thick or two thin pairs of socks.
• Take warm, high-calorie drinks and food.
For the complete list of dangers and controls, see IHSA's safety talk here: http://www.ihsa.ca/pdfs/safety_talks/cold_stress.pdf.