November 16, 2020

Leave Unsafe Working Conditions Out in the Cold

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If there is one thing a long-time resident or even a new Louisiana resident knows is that Louisiana weather is extremely unpredictable. It could be 40°F at 6 am and 85°F by 3 pm that same day. A winter blizzard in Louisiana is as expected as Santa Claus refusing cookies and milk, but you should never be unprepared and always have some hot chocolate on the side.

You should always be prepared by knowing how to recognize and avoid unsafe working conditions. Temperatures can fall to extreme degrees that could result in environmental cold stress such as trench foot, frostbite, or hypothermia. Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature.

Anyone is at risk when they have predisposing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension and are in poor physical condition, have a poor diet, or are older. These risks may not be preventable, but frequent short breaks in warm dry shelters and working during the warmest part of the day will allow for more protection.

Whether you are working at a job site or doing extended yard work at home to prepare for the winter season, know cold stress can be prevented by:

  • Monitor your physical and health condition and that of your coworkers
  • Dress appropriately for the cold
  • Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body
  • Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change
  • Drink warm sweetened fluids (no alcohol)
  • Use proper engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by your employer

Know the symptoms:

  • Trench Foot: Reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness, and blisters.
  • Frostbite: Reddened skin develops gray/white patches in the fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes; tingling, aching, a loss of feeling, firm/hard, and blisters may occur in the affected areas.
  • Hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering; moderate to severe symptoms of hypothermia are loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slow, unconsciousness and possibly death

This season take action where you can. Drink some hot chocolate. And remember, even Santa Claus needs to stay warm in his big red coat.

Visit Occupational Safety and Health Administration for more information on how to treat cold stress.

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