January 5, 2014
As we work during the extreme weather that has hit our area we must remind all members to work safely. Take the time to identify all possible safety hazards. All members should review safety documentation given to them by their employers. Supplemental information on many safety related items can be found on OSHA’s website osha.gov.
Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures may cause serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In extreme cases, including cold water immersion, exposure can lead to death. Danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. If these signs are observed, call for emergency help.
While it is advisable that most workers stay inside during a winter storm and extreme cold weather, some workers may be required to go into the storm. These may include utility workers; law enforcement personnel; firefighters; emergency medical personnel; federal, state and local government personnel; military personnel; highway personnel; and sanitation workers.
Hazards associated with working in winter storms and advice on how to deal with them can be found on OSHA’s website by clicking here.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
What is frostbite?
Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that causes freezing in the deep layers of skin and tissue. Frostbite can cause permanent damage. It is recognizable by a loss of feeling and a waxy-white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes.
What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.
For more information, see OSHA's Cold Stress Safety and Health Guide, or OSHA’s publication, The Cold Stress Equation.
What can be done to avoid frostbite and hypothermia?
- Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that lead to potential cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses/injuries and what to do to help those who are affected.
- Train the workforce about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
- Layer clothing to adjust to changing environmental temperatures. Wear a hat and gloves, in addition to underwear that will keep water away from the skin (polypropylene).
- Take frequent short breaks in warm dry shelters to allow the body to warm up.
- Perform work during the warmest part of the day.
- Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
- Use the buddy system (work in pairs).
- Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks). Avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, or hot chocolate) or alcohol.
- Eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.
Protective Clothing is the most important way to avoid cold stress. The type of fabric also makes a difference. Cotton loses its insulation value when it becomes wet. Wool, silk and most synthetics, on the other hand, retain their insulation even when wet. The following are recommendations for working in cold environments:
- Wear at least three layers of clothing. An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic to wick moisture away from the body. A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet. An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
- Wear a hat or hood. Up to 40% of body heat can be lost when the head is left exposed.
- Wear insulated boots or other footwear.
- Keep a change of dry clothing available in case work clothes become wet.
- With the exception of the wicking layer do not wear tight clothing. Loose clothing allows better ventilation of heat away from the body.
- Do not underestimate the wetting effects of perspiration. Oftentimes wicking and venting of the body’s sweat and heat are more important than protecting from rain or snow.
Learn more about working in cold weather by clicking here.
January Union meetings start this week. A complete listing of the meetings can be found by clicking here.
Remember no job is so important and no service is so urgent that we cannot take the time to perform our jobs safely.
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