Outside work presents challenges beyond just the weather, but it’s the weather that is probably the most unpredictable. Knowing ahead of time how to prepare for and handle frigid weather will be invaluable for keeping yourself safe from illness and injury caused by extreme temperature.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
While most common on exposed skin, such as your face, nose, and ears; frostbite can also affect hands and feet. Mild frostbite can appear red and swollen. Skin with severe frostbite will appear purple or black once it’s warmed.
Suspect frostbite if you experience numbness, loss of feeling, or stinging. Get out of the cold immediately. Slowly warm the affected area in warm, not hot, water; but don’t rub—it can damage the tissue. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering; vague, slow, or slurred speech; and sometimes incoherence or memory lapses. Other signs include loss of coordination, drowsiness, and exhaustion. Anyone experiencing these symptoms needs medical attention.
Someone exhibiting these signs may not be aware he or she is having problems. Keep the person covered and quiet, and lying with his or her head lower than the feet to increase circulation to the brain. Apply moderate heat with a hot water bottle, heating pad, or, most effective, a warm body. Warm, non-alcoholic drinks can also help. Do not offer medications.
- Cold weather requires special attention to attire and working conditions.
- Dress in layers. This lets you remove layers when you start to sweat, then put them back on as needed.
- Avoid wearing cotton next to your skin—synthetic materials do a better job of wicking away sweat. Add a fleece or wool layer, topped by outerwear that’s waterproof, breathable, and blocks the wind.
- A hat that covers your ears is a must. A face mask offers added protection.
- Use the layering technique for hands and feet as well. Wear gloves inside of mittens. Footwear that’s a size larger than normal lets you double up on socks.
- Staying hydrated helps your body function normally and operate efficiently.
Whenever possible, schedule work to avoid cold, windy conditions. If dangerous wind chill is present, and outdoor work can’t be rescheduled, take added precautions against the cold, such as wearing heavy-duty, cold-weather gear and taking frequent indoor “warm-up” breaks.
Awareness is key
Cold weather can be a crippler—or even a killer—and demands respect. If you are ill-equipped or unprepared, you risk personal injury and possible permanent damage.
The risk management suggestions included here are for general information purposes only. They should not be considered medical advice. Always consult your personal physician regarding your health concerns.For more detailed information on topics in this article, visit the Mayo Clinic website, http://ie3media.com/mayoclinic.