Workers exposed to extremely cold conditions are at risk of serious health problems, including hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and muscle injuries. Frigid temperatures can also cause additional pain for those who suffer from arthritis and rheumatism. To prevent injuries and illness as a result of winter weather, it is important to learn about the causes, symptoms and safety considerations to take so you are prepared to handle winter’s worst.
Causes of Cold Weather Injuries
There is no exact temperature at which the environment becomes hazardous. Instead, factors such as low temperatures, wind speed and wetness contribute to cold-induced injuries and illness.
- Exposed skin freezes within one minute at -29C when the wind speed is eight kilometres per hour (km/h) and will freeze at -12C if the wind speed is 32 km/h.
- When skin or clothing is wet, injury or illness can occur in temperatures above -12C and even above freezing (0C).
- When the body is unable to warm itself, hypothermia and frostbite can set in, resulting in permanent tissue damage and even death.
Signs of Injury and Illness
If you or a co-worker have any of these symptoms, get indoors and alert your supervisor or call for medical attention:
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Slurred speech
- Clumsy movements
- Confused behaviour
- White or greyish-yellow area(s) of the skin
- Skin that feels “waxy”
It is important to note that many people suffering from the warning signs of frostbite do not notice because the tissue is numb. Therefore, it is wise for employees to check on each other periodically.
To reduce the risk of cold-induced injuries:
- Layer clothing to keep warm enough to be safe, but cool enough to avoid perspiring excessively. It should also contain the following:
- Inner layer – a synthetic weave to keep perspiration away from the body
- Middle layer – wool or synthetic fabric to absorb sweat and retain body heat.
Outer layer – material designed to
- break the wind and allow for ventilation.
- Wear a hat. Almost 40 per cent of your body heat escapes from your head. If you wear a hard hat, add a winter liner that covers your neck.
- Place heat packets in gloves, vests, boots and hats to add heat to the body.
- Watch out for the following effects of cold temperatures on your body:
- Reduced dexterity/hand usage
- Cold tool handles reducing your grip force
- The skin’s reduced ability to feel pain in cold temperatures
- Reduced muscle power and time to exhaustion
Legal Specific Disclaimer:
The following information is not exhaustive, nor does it apply to specific circumstances. The content therefore should not be regarded as constituting legal or regulatory advice and not be relied upon as such. Readers should contact a legal or regulatory professional for appropriate advice. Further, the law may have changed since the first publication of this information.
The content of this Cover Overview is of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances. It does not purport to be a comprehensive analysis of all matters relevant to its subject matter. The content should not, therefore, be regarded as constituting legal advice and not be relied upon as such. In relation to any particular problem which they may have, readers are advised to seek specific advice. Further, the law may have changed since first publication and the reader is cautioned accordingly. © 2022 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.