How to Protect Your Workers from Winter Injuries and Illness
Colder weather normally comes with a unique set of hazards that could lead to injuries and illness in the workplace. Employers need to be on the forefront to ensure the safety of their employees during these cold times. The following are effective tips that you can implement to protect your workforce from common winter problems such as hypothermia, frostbite, and cold stress.
It’s important that you train your workforce to recognise different conditions and circumstances that could result in cold stress. Educate them to read the symptoms, relevant prevention tips, and how to help those affected with this problem. You should schedule short and frequent breaks in warm areas and consider outdoor work during the warmest parts of the day. Encourage the workers to work in pairs so they can monitor one another for any signs of cold stress. You should also check the wind chill and temperature occasionally to enable you to gauge their exposure risk and make arrangements to safely complete outdoor tasks. Whenever your employees are working outside, whether they’re clearing snow from the driveways or working on a project, ensure that they are aware of the extreme cold hazards and have taken the necessary precautions to protect themselves from hypothermia and frostbite. Surfaces will be very slippery due to rains and snowing hence the need to ensure proper fall protection in place such as fall protection posts to enhance the safety of the employees.
An individual can experience hypothermia when their body temperature falls below 35.5 degrees Celsius. In mild cases, a person normally shivers uncontrollably and their fingers and lips may turn blue. If left untreated, the person’s breathing and heart rate will slow down and they may become disoriented and confused. They can also experience slurred speech. In severe cases, the person’s heart rate may become too slow to an extent that their pulse can be hardly found. The victim may also lose consciousness. If one of your workers experiences hypothermia while attending to their duties, ensure to seek medical attention, however mild it may seem. You’ll also need to perform the following first aid on the victim as you wait for medical help:
- Move the person from a cold environment to a warmer one.
- Remove any cold and wet clothing.
- Clothe the person in dry, non-heated blankets.
- Warm the person’s internal areas first; groin, abdomen, chest, and neck, followed by arms and legs.
- Do not apply heated pads or blankets on the person or place them in front of a fire.
This can occur when a person’s skin freezes from contact with very cold objects or exposure to a severe cold environment hence damaging blood vessels and the skin. Extremities such as nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes, are most likely to be affected. In severe cases, frostbite can cause tissue death, which can result in loss of function in a body part or require amputation. Frostbite is characterised by aching sensations, stinging, tingling, or numbness in the affected parts. It can make the worker’s skin waxy or white. Severe cases may result in swelling, redness, heat, colour change (from normal to red and then black), and blistering. Below are the Dos and Don’ts to consider when treating frostbite:
- Do use sterile dressing for blisters.
- Do warm the affected parts gradually with body heat.
- Do use warm water (between 39 to 43 degrees Celsius) to warm the affected part.
- Do get immediate medical attention for severe cases.
- Don’t rub the affected parts.
- Don’t heat the affected parts suddenly using a fireplace or extremely hot water.