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International Operating Engineer - Winter 2016

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The quarterly magazine of the International Union of Operating Engineers

Safety & Health Working

Safety & Health Working Outdoors in Winter Weather Be prepared, take precautions, stay warm, and work safe! WE ALL KNOW how unpleasant it can be to have to go outside on a cold and windy winter day. What if you had to be outside and work in that cold weather for 8-, 10-, or even 12-hours? It may not only be unpleasant, it may be downright dangerous to your health and safety. A study published in the May 20, 2015, edition of the journal The Lancet stated that cold weather kills 20 times as many people as hot weather. This according to an international study analyzing over 74 million deaths in 384 locations across 13 countries. Any worker exposed to cold air temperatures is at risk for cold stress. As the wind speed increases, it causes the air temperature to feel even colder (wind chill effect), increasing the risk of cold stress to exposed workers, especially those who must work outdoors. Cold weather kills 20 times as many people as hot weather. Personal risk factors which can make workers even more susceptible to cold stress include wetness/dampness; dressing improperly; exhaustion; predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes; and poor physical conditioning. Wetness and dampness, even from body sweat, facilitates heat loss from the body. What exactly is cold stress? Cold stress occurs from lowering the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Types of cold stress include trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. Cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions where they are not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for “cold stress.” Immersion/Trench Foot Trench foot is a non-freezing injury of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur in temperatures as high as 60°F if feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Symptoms of trench foot include reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness, and blisters. First aid for trench foot includes calling 911 in an emergency, remove wet shoes/boots and socks, dry the feet and avoid working on them, keep affected feet elevated and avoid walking, and get medical attention. Frostbite Frostbite is caused by freezing of the skin and tissues. Frostbite can cause permanent damage of the body, and in severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures. Symptoms of frostbite include reddened skin which develops gray/white patches in the fingers, toes, nose, or earlobes; tingling; aching; a loss of feeling; firm/hard skin; and blisters may occur in the affected areas. First aid for frostbite includes: • Protect the frostbite area by wrapping loosely in a dry cloth and protect the area from contact until medical help arrives. • Do not rub the affected area because rubbing causes damage to the skin and tissue. • Do not apply snow or water. • Do not break blisters. • Do not try to re-warm the frostbitten part. • Give warm sweetened drinks if the person is alert. Hypothermia Hypothermia occurs when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. Exposure to cold temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy and the result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or immersion in cold water. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering. Although shivering indicates the body is losing heat, it also helps the body to rewarm itself. Symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include loss of coordination; confusion; slurred speech; heart rate/breathing slow; unconsciousness and possibly death. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know what is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it. First aid for hypothermia includes calling 911 immediately. While waiting for medical assistance to arrive, move the worker to a warm dry area; remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing; and wrap the entire body in layers of blankets with a vapor barrier. If medical assistance is more than 30 minutes away, give warm sweetened drinks if the person is alert and place warm bottles or hot packs in armpits, sides of chest, and groin. You can also help protect yourself when working in cold weather by following these guidelines: • Wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing: inner layer of wool, silk, or synthetic to keep moisture away from the body; a middle layer of wool or synthetic or provide insulation even when wet; and an outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating. • Insulated coat/jacket (water resistant if necessary). Do not wear tight clothing – it reduces circulation. • Knit mask to cover face and mouth. • Hat that will cover your ears. • Insulated gloves (water resistant if necessary). • Insulated and waterproof boots. Being prepared will help you stay warm and safe even when having to work in cold weather conditions. Knowing the signs and symptoms of cold stress and watching out for yourself and your co-workers will keep everyone warm and safe during the winter work season. 8 INTERNATIONAL OPERATING ENGINEER WINTER 2016 9

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