The harshest days of winter pose significant health and safety risks to your team if they’re working outside for any prolonged period of time. For instance, frostbite can set in in as little as 5-10 minutes, making the cold weather a true life-or-death environment.
However, that’s not the only hazard posed by winter – OSHA has outlined many of them for you and your team to keep top-of-mind so that your workplace minimizes the possibility of injuries, fatalities or the illnesses that can occur from everything this potentially dangerous season can throw your way. Since preparedness is no guarantee of preventing trauma, we’ll also share some of the ways you can act with the help of training and tools from SOS Technologies for workers who have fallen victim to injury as a result of winter’s more severe obstacles.
Cold Stress: What’s That About?
First, let’s understand that while there is a difference between Wind Chill Advisory and Wind Chill Warning, both are extremely important to take note of for outside work and exposure to the elements. A Wind Chill Advisory poses great inconvenience to life with prolonged exposure whereas a Wind Chill Warning will create a serious hazard to life within minutes of exposure. Though a Wind Chill Warning is particularly dangerous to human life, the reality here is that in both conditions, outside work should be avoided if at all possible as the risk is too great. Why? Two words: Cold stress.
Simply put, a consistent level of exposure to the cold air combined with wind speed is a recipe for cold stress, often linked to frostbite, hypothermia, tissue damage and death. The body loses heat very quickly and as it does, the temperature of one’s skin and internal body temperature drops heavily.
Who Is At The Greatest Risk Of Cold Stress?
Obviously we know that any worker whose job can’t avoid working outdoors is going to be at great risk for cold stress, but we often see that risk climb even further when the individual is not in good physical shape or has a condition such as diabetes or hypertension. Therefore, it may not be feasible for a construction worker, airport baggage handler or first responder to totally avoid the cold air but a plan to limit their outdoor exposure, particularly those who already carry health risks, should be a serious option on the table well before a winter storm arrives. What’s more, any employer that does not take the proper precautions to protect workers from cold stress hazards could find themselves liable for repercussions from OSHA, including fines.
Cold Stress Prevention
The practical approach to cold stress conditions, in some ways, is quite similar to how you might approach extreme heat conditions in the middle of the summer: Schedule frequent breaks in areas that provide relief from the weather, ensuring no crew member works in isolation and if there is a time of day that is a bit more reasonable to work in (i.e. warmer, less windy), schedule the bulk of your team to work at that time. Proper hydration is also a must during this period.
It almost goes without saying but still needs to be said anyway – this is not a time for any of your workers to be “tough” and shrug off the essential layers of clothing that protect them from the brutally cold air and wind. They cannot and should not work outdoors without such clothing.
It stands to reason that not every manager and supervisor is going to be next to every worker in the field outdoors. This is where the “buddy” system of working in pairs can save a life. With safety training from knowledgeable sources like SOS Technologies, each worker can recognize when cold stress is setting in in a fellow team member and take the immediate steps necessary to act, depending on their symptoms.
Winter Weather Action Plans For First Aid And CPR
Condition: Worker has collapsed, medical help is far away
Action: As you tell another co-worker to call 911, move the victim indoors and remove clothing that is wet, replacing it with dry clothing. Ask someone to get you dry clothing and/or blankets.
Is the victim conscious? Hydrate them with warm drinks to elevate their body temperature. If they are unconscious, have a team locate warm bottles or hot packs to apply to the victim’s body. Rewarm these as needed or have a co-worker keep bringing new warm bottles and packs to apply to the victim until first responders arrive.
Condition: Worker has collapsed, hypothermia/frostbite apparent
Action: Unlike other instances that call for you to apply warm packs or pads to a victim, frostbite brings a very different set of rules where you do not want to try to rewarm the area with any kind of heat source. Why? You can actually cause more damage to the affected tissue. Your best move is to wrap the area in a dry cloth to prevent any further contact while keeping the victim hydrated with warm, non-alcoholic drinks.
Only when first responders arrive on the scene should any rewarming efforts occur.
Condition: Worker has collapsed, no pulse, not breathing, hypothermia/frostbite apparent
Here, we have to call upon someone who is trained in CPR to resuscitate the victim who is clearly not breathing and/or lacks a pulse after you’ve checked for one minute. Hypothermia has also likely set in.
In this case, after telling a co-worker to call 911, begin chest compressions and rescue breathing. Check for a response and then quickly return to giving CPR. Only when the victim regains consciousness should you attempt to give them fluids.
Nobody can completely avoid the dangers posed by winter’s toughest days, including snow and ice, but at SOS Technologies, we do have a variety of smart solutions in the way of first aid products, vehicle emergency kits, AEDs and CPR training.
All of these resources from SOS will help you be as prepared as possible for emergencies that could become life-threatening. Knowing how late the winter season can go, it’s easy to underestimate what prolonged exposure to cold air and wind can do to an outdoor worker. Don’t fall into that trap. Get proactive and get in touch with SOS today to schedule your next training session at 888.705.6100.