We live in Minnesota and the fact is that our winters are cold. Those of us that work outdoors need to pay attention to the cold at a greater level than your average person as we may be exposed to cold stress. When working outdoors in extreme temperatures for extended periods of time, we need to pay attention to our body and potential systems, as well as our co-worker’s. Extremely cold or wet weather can cause hypothermia or frostbite at a much more rapid pace than we would expect.
Hypothermia is when the body uses up its stored energy and can no longer produce heat. This condition often occurs after prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Being aware of the symptoms is necessary when working outdoors during our Minnesota winters.
· Loss of Coordination
· Confusion and disorientation
· No shivering
· Blue skin
· Dilated pupils
· Slowed pulse and breathing
· Loss of consciousness
First Aid Steps:
· Request IMMEDIATE medical assistance
· Move the victim to a warm room, shelter, or vehicle
· Remove wet clothing
· Warm the center of the body first –chest, neck, head, and groin – using an electric blanket or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, or towels
· If conscious, warm beverages may help increase the body temperature - Do not give alcohol
· If no pulse, begin CPR
Frostbite is an injury that is caused by freezing. Frostbite most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Again, being aware of the symptoms can save you from permanent injury to your body.
· Reduced blood flow to hands and feet
· Tingling or stinging
· Bluish or pale, waxy skin
First Aid Steps:
· Get into a warm room, shelter, or vehicle immediately
· Unless necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes
· Immerse the affected area(s) in warm (not hot) water, or warm the affected area with body heat. Do not use a heating pad, fireplace, or radiator for warmth as your sense of heat will be impacted leading to potential for burning.
· Do not massage the frostbitten area; doing so can cause more damage
· Monitor your physical condition and that of your co-workers
· Wear appropriate clothing
o Wear several layers of loose clothing for insulation; tight clothing reduces blood circulation to the extremities
· Be aware that some clothing may restrict your movement and result in a hazardous situation
· Protect the ears, face, hands and feet in extremely cold or wet weather
o Boots should be waterproof and insulated
o Wear a hat to reduce the loss of body heat from your head
· Move into warm locations for breaks; limit the amount of time outside
· Carry extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, blankets, change of clothes and thermos of hot liquid
· Include chemical hot packs in your first aid kits
· Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
While this all may be information you have known since grade school, it is an important reminder that we do not become immune to these conditions as we age.