By Lonnie Fritz, Market Professional – Construction Industries, Caterpillar Inc.
Temperatures dropping in your part of the country? Make sure your crew is ready to work safely in the cold. As you think about topics for your next safety discussion, consider adding hypothermia to the list. Here are a few things everyone should know about it.
- It doesn’t have to be bitterly cold outside to get hypothermia. It can strike anytime weather conditions (including wind and rain) cause the body temperature to drop below 95°F.
- It’s deadly. Hypothermia is not simply a matter of being too cold to work productively. It’s a life-threatening condition that, left untreated, can lead to heart and respiratory system failure and death.
- It’s hard to recognize in yourself and others. A key symptom of hypothermia is loss of mental acuity—which makes it difficult for a victim to even know there’s a problem. Teach your team to keep an eye on one another and be alert for things like confusion, slow breathing, fatigue, slurring words, shivering, blotchy skin, blue fingers or loss of coordination.
- Clothing matters. People are more likely to dress appropriately in extreme cold, but may be less prepared when the weather is chilly, wet or windy. During the colder months—even on days when temperatures are above freezing—it’s always smart to wear a fast-drying layer next to the skin and bring extra layers for warmth and rain protection.
- Snacking helps. Eating a light snack every couple hours over the course of a shift helps keep the body furnace stoked.
- The risks are higher for some people. Older workers, heavy users of alcohol and those with certain health conditions like diabetes, arthritis or depression can have extra trouble staying warm.
- Don’t try to warm up a victim with alcohol or a massage. If someone on the site is hypothermic, call 911, get the person into a warm, dry place and remove any wet clothing. Apply warm compresses to the head, neck, chest and groin. Give them warm water to drink and don’t massage their extremities. Rubbing frostbitten skin can cause severe damage to underlying tissue.
Get more tips for winter safety here.