Have the person suffering from hypothermia move their arms and legs to create muscle heat. If they are unable to do this, place warm bottles or hot packs in the arm pits, groin, neck and head areas. However, do not rub the person’s body or place them in warm bath water, which can stop the heart.
Prolonged exposure to below-zero temperatures can lead to frost bite, in which the skin becomes pale, waxy, hard and numb. Fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears and the nose are usually affected.
For frost bite, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Move the person to a dry area and remove any wet or tight clothing that might be cutting off the flow of blood to the affected area. Do not rub the affected area.
Gently place the affected area in a warm (105-degree Fahrenheit) water bath and monitor the water temperature to slowly warm the tissue. Pouring warm water directly on the affected area can result in tissue damage by causing it to warm up too quickly. Warming takes about 25-40 minutes.
After it is warmed, the affected area can become puffy and blister and have a burning feeling or numbness. When normal feeling, movement and skin color have returned, the affected area should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm.
To avoid severe tissue damage, if there is a chance the affected area will get cold again, do not warm the skin.
OSHA recommends a number of precautions for workers who are working under cold-weather conditions:
- Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that lead to potential cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries and what to do to help the worker.
- Train your workforce about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Select proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions. Layer clothing to adjust to changing 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 or alcohol.
- Eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.
Workers should also be aware that they are at increased risk in a cold work environment when:
- They have predisposing health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension.
- They take certain medication. Check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacy to find out if any medicines you are taking can affect you in the cold.
- They are in poor physical condition, have a poor diet or are older.
For more information on construction safety issues, e-mail George Middleton or call him at 800-368-5242 x8590.