Each season brings its own set of hazards for construction workers. As we enter the winter season, be especially mindful of the weather, its effects on the body and proper actions to prevent serious injury, permanent tissue damage or even death.
Low temperatures, high winds, dampness and cold water can contribute to cold-related stress on your body. Wearing inadequate or wet clothing increases the effects of cold on the body. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and some medications inhibit the body’s response to the cold and can impair judgement.
Fatigue, nausea, confusion, lightheadedness and profuse sweating are symptoms of hypothermia. Exposed skin can start to freeze at just 28◦F causing frostbite. Deep frostbite can cause blood clots and even gangrene.
Following are several tips to consider while working outdoors during the winter months:
- Keep your body temperature at or about normal (98.6◦F). This can be accomplished by wearing layers of clothing.
- Wear cotton or lightweight wool fabrics next to your skin. Add layers when you are cold, remove layers when hot.
- Keep your clothing as dry as possible. Protect your clothing as needed by wearing rain gear and other durable garments. Keep an extra pair of socks handy so you can change them as needed. You may also want to consider investing in waterproof footwear.
- Protect your head, neck and ears. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed.
- Wear the right gloves for the work you are doing. They should have enough insulation to keep you warm and prevent frostbite, but thin enough so you can feel what you are doing if you are manipulating controls or tools.
- Keep your safety eyewear from fogging up in the cold. Use anti-fog coatings and wipes that are appropriate for your eyewear.
If your skin becomes discolored and it appears that circulation has been limited, then you are probably experiencing the early stages of frostbite. If this occurs, find a way to immediately start warming that particular part of the body. Tips for treating frostbite include:
- When possible, go indoors or to a warmer area to prevent further exposure.
- Never rub or massage the affected body part.
- Never use hot water. You should gradually warm the frostbitten area by immersing it in lukewarm water.
- If blisters develop, cover them with a bandage or gauze to prevent them from opening and becoming infected.
- Refrain from smoking as it slows down the circulation of blood to the extremities.
- Avoid caffeine. It constricts blood vessels.
- When normal feeling, movement and skin color have returned, the area affected should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm.
- If the condition does not improve, seek professional medical attention.
Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. Prepare in advance, observe safety precautions and reduce your risk of weather-related injury.