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Outdoor workers must take precautions against cold stress

As autumn slowly gives way to winter, workers who spend any time of their working day must guard against the hazards of cold stress. Unprotected exposure to extreme cold can result in serious work-related injuries and illnesses. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent these conditions and most often there are ways to effectively treat them if they unexpectedly develop.

What exactly is cold stress? Cold stress is a general term used to refer to any cold-exposure illnesses or injuries. These include frostbite, hypothermia, chilblains and trench foot.

Whenever workers are exposed to extreme temperatures, rapidly dropping temperatures and temperatures well below average for any given time of year, they are vulnerable to cold stress. As a result, it is critical for workers to properly outfit themselves in order to maintain regular body heat. Failure to maintain regular body heat in general can affect the brain and cause hypothermia.

Workers who do not know what signs to look for can develop hypothermia and other conditions without realizing it. By the time hypothermia develops into later stage symptoms, these workers can become disoriented and more likely to suffer falls and other serious accidents leading to severe injury.

If workers begin to fatigue in cold weather, lose ordinary coordination or suddenly become confused, it is critical that they warm up, strip out of any wet clothing and be checked for possible hypothermia symptoms. In addition, if workers suffer from numbness or tingling in hands, feet or any exposed area of skin, they may be developing frostbite. These workers should similarly be moved to warm areas and given medical treatment.

Cold stress injuries and illnesses are preventable. However, sometimes workers attempt to take proper precautions and these precautions are ultimately insufficient. In these cases, workers should be moved to warm areas and treated by a medical professional immediately.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Cold Stress"

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