Health Effects of Working in the Cold

Workers exposed to extremely cold conditions are at risk of serious health problems, including hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration, and muscle injuries.

Frigid temperatures can also cause additional pain for those who suffer from arthritis and rheumatism.

If employees have any of the following symptoms, they should get indoors and alert their supervisor or call for medical attention if the symptoms don't subside:

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Clumsy movements
  • Fatigue
  • Confused behaviour
  • White or greyish-yellow areas of the skin
  • Skin that feels waxy
  • Numbness

It's important to note that many people suffering from the warning signs of frostbite do not notice because the tissue is numb. Therefore, it's wise for employees to check on each other periodically.

There is not exact temperature at which the environment become hazardous. Instead, factors such as low temperatures, wind speed, and wetness contribute to cold-induced injuries and illnesses.

The following are some important things to note about working in cold weather.

  • Exposed skin freezes within one minute at -29C when the wind speed is 8 KM/hour. Skin will freeze at 10C if the wind speed is 32 KM/h.
  • When skin or clothing is wet, injury or illness can occur in temperatures above -12C and even above 0C.
  • When the body is unable to warm itself, hypothermia and frostbite can set in, resulting in permanent tissue damage and even death.

To reduce the risk of cold-induced injuries, employees should layer clothing, wear a hat, and seek shelter at the first sign of hazardous working conditions.

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