OHS Canada Magazine

Working Outside? How to Guard against Cold Injuries

February 11, 2016
By the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Plant workers that have to head outdoors in sub-zero temperatures to perform tasks need to plan their winter work wardrobes carefully to avoid “cold” injuries.

To stay safe and dry, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that workers insulate themselves against air temperature, air movement (wind speed) and humidity (wetness) by wearing layered clothing to regulate the amount of heat and perspiration generated and lost while on the job.

If the work pace is too fast or if the clothing is not properly selected, excessive sweating may occur and the clothing next to the body will become wet. The moisture will dramatically drop the insulation value of the clothing and increase the risk for cold injuries.

Workers should also take regular breaks from the cold, eat properly and frequently to maintain body heat and prevent dehydration and use a buddy system – look out for co-workers and be alert for the symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite.

Hypothermia is the most common cold injury. Prolonged exposure to the cold causes the body to lose energy more quickly than it is produced, dropping body temperature. Warning signs are numbness, stiffness, drowsiness, poor coordination and sometimes even a lack of desire to get out of the cold. If any symptoms of hypothermia are present, immediately call for emergency assistance (9-1-1).

Frostbite is the second most common cold injury. The freezing constricts blood vessels, which impairs blood flow and may cause permanent tissue damage. Noses, ears, cheeks, fingers and toes are most often affected. In mild cases, the symptoms include inflammation of the skin in patches accompanied by slight pain.

In severe cases, there could be tissue damage without pain, or there could be burning or prickling sensations resulting in blisters. Seek medical attention.

More information about working in the cold and treating non-freezing and freezing injuries can be found here.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, a Canadian federal government agency based in Hamilton, Ontario, is Canada’s national resource for the advancement of workplace health and safety.

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