Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can result in health problems as serious as frostbite, and hypothermia. Workers need to be especially mindful of the cold weather, its effects on the body, proper prevention techniques, and treatment of cold-related disorders.
The four environmental conditions that cause cold-related stress are low temperatures, high/cool winds, dampness and cold water. Wind chill, a combination of temperature and velocity, is a crucial factor to evaluate when working outside. For example, when the actual air temperature of the wind is 40ºF (4ºC) and its velocity is 35 mph, the exposed skin receives conditions equivalent to the still-air temperature being 11ºF (-11ºC)! A dangerous situation of rapid heat loss may arise for any individual exposed to high winds and cold temperatures.
Frostbite occurs when the skin tissue actually freezes, causing ice crystals to form between cells and draw water from them, which leads to cellular dehydration. Although this typically occurs at temperatures below 30ºF (-1ºC), wind chill effects can cause frostbite at above-freezing temperatures.
Major Risk Factors for
• Wearing inadequate or wet clothing increases the effects of cold on the body.
• Taking certain drugs or medications such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and medication that inhibits the body’s response to the cold or impairs judgment.
• Having a cold or certain diseases, such as diabetes, heart, vascular, and thyroid problems, may make a person more susceptible to the winter elements.
• Becoming exhausted or immobilized may speed up the effects of cold weather.
• Aging - the elderly are more vulnerable to the effects of harsh winter weather.
Source: TWU International Safety and Health Committee and United States Department of Labor http://www.osha.gov/Publications/coldcard/coldcard.html