Hypothermia and frostbite can be two of the serious consequences of working outdoors in winter weather.
Hypothermia is a dangerous lowering of the body’s temperature by exposure to cold or wet conditions. Actually, the air temperature doesn’t have to be particularly low to cause hypothermia – just getting wet and chilled can do the same thing.
Hypothermia can be fatal. Here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:
- Chills and shivering
- Inability to think straight or speak coherently
- Irrational behavior
- Poor co-ordination
- Loss of consciousness
These are some of the ways to prevent hypothermia:
- Dress warmly. Wear a hat, waterproof boots and gloves. Dress in layers so you can add or remove clothing as the temperature changes or you get warmed up.
- Keep your clothing dry. Put on waterproof gear before you get wet. Carry replacement clothing, such as socks, in case your clothing does get wet or sweaty.
- Eat regular meals with enough carbohydrates and fats so that your body can keep producing the heat you need.
- Stay away from alcoholic beverages.
- Stay active in the cold, and take any rest periods in a warm dry place.
- If you start developing signs of hypothermia, get to shelter promptly. In serious cases, call for medical help right away.
Another cold-weather danger is frostbite. It is an injury which occurs when the body tissue freezes. The fingers, toes, face and ears are the most likely to be damaged.
Frostbite makes the skin numb, giving it a white and waxy appearance. If skin becomes frostbitten, it is better to have it thawed at a hospital. However, if medical help is far away, warm the frostbitten area gradually with body heat or tepid water. Do not use hot water or direct heat. Do not rub the affected area with your hands or with snow, because you will cause worse damage. Do not thaw the tissue if there is a chance it will be refrozen before you reach safety.
Here are some ways to prevent frostbite:
- Keep all of the extremities covered. In severely cold or windy weather or when riding on an open vehicle, wear a ski-type mask to cover the cheeks.
- Carry spare mittens, liners and socks in case yours become wet.
- Make sure that gloves and footwear do not fit so tightly that they can cut off circulation.
- Check yourself for frostbite by making sure you can move your fingers and toes and that you still have feeling in your face.