BATON ROUGE, La.—December 18, 2014— As Louisiana approaches the midpoint of the winter season, Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation (LWCC) is reminding employers to make sure that workers are properly prepared for working in cold weather conditions.
Because Louisiana’s winter temperatures can be milder than average at times, workers can be ill-prepared when a sudden cold snap occurs. Prolonged periods of extreme cold are rare in Louisiana; however, cold snaps are most frequent in the month of February.
“Many employers are unaware that prolonged exposure to lower-than-average winter temperatures, combined with high relative humidity and wind, can lead to serious health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia, which can result in lost workdays,” says Michael Page, LWCC director of safety and loss prevention. “In extreme cases, exposure can result in unconsciousness and even death.”
Employees must be able to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that lead to potential frostbite and hypothermia. They must learn the signs and symptoms of these cold-induced illnesses/injuries and what to do to help a co-worker.
Frostbite is literally the freezing in deep layers of skin and tissue. The skin turns waxy-white, becoming hard and numb. It generally affects the fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears and the nose.
Hypothermia may occur with only a two-degree drop from the body’s core temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Early signals include fatigue or drowsiness with uncontrolled shivering, cool bluish skin and slurred speech. It can result in loss of motor functions such as movement, reaction time and mental alertness, all of which are needed for optimal workplace performance.
Employers should provide training to protect workers from such weather-related exposures. To help avoid cold-induced illnesses/injuries in the workplace, LWCC recommends the following preventive measures:
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Plan breaks in warm, dry shelters to allow the body to warm up.
- Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks); avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea or hot chocolate).
- Eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.
- Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
- Dress in layers to protect against wet and windy conditions; include layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.
- Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day, thus reducing exposure time to the elements.
- Use the buddy system: work in pairs so that one employee can recognize danger signs.
- Train workers about driving in inclement weather (snow, rain and sleet).
- Recognize that a slight 10 mph wind can make a temperature of 40 degrees feel like 28 degrees.
With forethought and proper training, employers can ensure employee safety during adverse winter conditions and help protect employees from the unpleasant effects of cold weather, says Page.
As part of its commitment to helping businesses integrate safety management into their company culture, LWCC provides a variety of online articles and resources on this and other important workplace safety topics. For more information on cold weather safety, visit LWCC’s website at www.lwcc.com.