Working in Cold Environments
Excessive exposure to cold is referred to as cold stress. At very cold temperatures, the most serious concern is the risk of hypothermia. Another serious effect of cold exposure is frostbite –freezing of the exposed extremities such as fingers, toes, nose and ear lobes. Hypothermia can be fatal in the absence of immediate medical attention.
What are the warning signs of hypothermia?
Victims of hypothermia will sometimes not notice the symptoms until it is too late, so the ability of co-workers to identify symptoms and to quickly seek medical help is vital.
Warning signs of hypothermia can include drowsiness, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, irritability or euphoria. Workers may experience severe shivering, and pain in their hands, feet, ears, and other extremities.
Workers should be moved to a heated area and seek medical attention when appropriate.
How does cold affect work performance?
Uncomfortably cold working conditions can lead to higher accident rates because cold can impair the performance of complex mental tasks. Manual tasks are also impaired because the sensitivity and dexterity of fingers are reduced in the cold. Mental alertness is also reduced due to cold-related discomfort and may lead to hypothermia.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for working in the cold
Protective clothing is needed for working in extreme weather and should be selected to suit the temperature and weather conditions. Clothing should be worn in multiple layers, which provides better protection. The air between layers of clothing provides better insulation than the clothing itself. Having several layers also gives you the option to open or remove a layer before you get too warm and start sweating or to add a layer when you take a break.
These factors are important to consider, so that you can regulate the amount of heat and perspiration you generate while working. Almost 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head, so a wool knit cap or a liner under a hard hat can reduce excessive heat loss.
Clothing should be kept clean as dirt fills the fibres in clothing and destroys its insulating ability. Cotton is NOT recommended as it tends to get damp or wet and quickly and loses its insulating properties. Wool and synthetic fibres
Can people become acclimatized to cold?
Acclimatization is the term given to the development of resistance to, or tolerance for, an environmental change. The human body is far worse at acclimatizing to frigid conditions than it is to heat. However, frequently-exposed body parts can develop some degree of tolerance to cold.
If you require more information on working in cold environments, please contact your local union office.