Ah winter, it will be here in no time, and what’s not to love? Listening to the rain on the roof, sledding in the snow, working in freezing cold temperatures. OK, maybe not the last one. In fact, working in the cold can be pretty debilitating and can lead to such problems as frostbite or hypothermia. If you’d rather spend your time working, instead of with the medic, here are some things to look out for when working in the cold.
Hypothermia is potentially deadly and results from an abnormally low body temperature. Frostbite is the result of the freezing of the extracellular fluid in the skin and usually affects the extremities. Both hypothermia and frostbite are caused by
a combination of cold weather conditions—temperature, wind and wetness. In addition, frostbite can be the result of a rapid transfer of heat, such as touching a cold metal surface with one’s bare hands.
Some conditions that will increase your risk of hypothermia or frostbite are:
Improper dress for the conditions;
Poor physical condition;
Fatigue or illness; and
Poor diet or alcohol, tobacco or drug use.
You can help prevent these conditions by following these guidelines:
Wear proper clothing, including layers. Wool is the best at keeping in the heat, then synthetics and down (as long as they stay dry). The worst fabric to wear is cotton.
Cover your head and neck. You lose half of your body’s heat from those areas.
Keep dry and have clothing that blocks the wind.
Make sure clothing and shoes are loose enough to ensure proper circulation.
Drink fluids and don’t diet. You need proper nutrients to keep your metabolism and body temperature high.
Take breaks to go inside and warm up.
If you must be outside, keep moving and active to increase your circulation. If you begin to overheat, ventilate so that you stay dry.
Never touch a cold metal object with your bare hands.
Do not use alcohol, tobacco or drugs.
Symptoms of frostbite range from mild cases with temporary whitening of the skin and residual redness once warmed, to more severe cases of gray-blue or gray-yellow coloring, a frozen feeling and blisters with swelling, itching, burning and deep pain when the area is warmed.
Early symptoms of hypothermia can include intense shivering, muscle tension, fatigue and an intense feeling of cold or numbness. Additionally, the afflicted may have slurred speech, difficulty performing tasks, loss of coordination, erratic behavior, slow breathing and a slow heart rate.
If you have any of these symptoms or notice them in someone else, immediately take yourself or them into a warm area and notify a medical professional. Although frostbite is best treated under medical supervision, you can re-warm the afflicted area with warm water. Do not massage or rub the area, or use dry heat such as a radiator or heating pad. If blisters are present, leave them intact. Once the area is re-warmed, take care to not re-freeze it.
To treat hypothermia, again, bring the person into a warm area and notify a medical professional. If there is no warm area, shelter them from wind and water. Remove any wet clothing and replace it with dry clothing. Wrap the afflicted person in blankets and cover his or her head.
No caffeine, alcohol or tobacco ever should be used in the treatment of either of these conditions.
Remember, prevention is best, so read the weather report and be prepared. When you get to the set, check that it is prepared with adequate ways to keep all of the crew warm.