Stay Warm, and Safe, Working in the Winter

DF SafetyHealth and Safety Tips

Living and working in the prairies, especially during the winter months, is something to be highly considerate and aware of. Due to the extreme temperatures we experience, it is key to understand the injuries that can occur, and the best ways to stop them from happening. Cold weather injuries can be very serious, and in some instances, life threatening. So, today, let’s chat about some of the most common injuries and preventative measures. 

Hypothermia 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes hypothermia as: “Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it is produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.” Symptoms include shivering, confusion, slurred speech, loss of coordination, drowsiness, and in severe cases may result in unconsciousness or death. 

To prevent hypothermia, do the following: 

  • Always wear layers to trap warm air close to your body. 
  • Start with a moisture wicking layer to keep sweat off your skin. 
  • Cover your head and extremities with hats, gloves, warm socks, and insulated boots. 
  • Dress in waterproof and windproof clothing. 
  • Take regular breaks in a warm and sheltered area. 
  • Remove wet clothing immediately. 

Frostbite             

Frostbite is a common injury caused by freezing, which can lead to loss of feeling and colour in the affected areas. Typically, it impacts the extremities such as your nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. This is why wearing appropriate clothing on these areas of your body is key. Frostbite should be taken seriously as it can cause permanent damage. In serious cases, it may lead to removing the affected body part(s). Symptoms include a white or grayish-yellow patch, skin that feels firm or waxy, or numbness. 

To prevent frostbite, do the following: 

  • Dress appropriately and cover your extremities. 
  • Invest in high quality, insulated, and waterproof footwear. 
  • Try to move your body, and take breaks as needed. 
  • Take immediate action if you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms. 

Trench Foot 

Also known as immersion foot, trench foot is caused by extensive exposure to cold and damp conditions. It can be quite painful, so it is important to pay attention and watch for symptoms such as numbness, discomfort, and skin discoloration. 

To prevent trench foot, do the following: 

  • Ensure you keep your feet warm and dry. 
  • Always wear waterproof boots and moisture wicking socks. 
  • If your feet become wet, change your socks or boots. 
  • Move your feet to promote circulation. 

Chilblains 

The Mayo Clinic describes chilblains as, “a condition that causes inflamed swollen patches and blistering on the hands and feet. It is caused by exposure to damp air that’s cold but not freezing.” Symptoms may include small, itchy areas on your skin (usually on your feet or hands), sores or blisters, swelling, pain, and changes in skin colour. 

To prevent chilblains, do the following: 

  • Keep fingers and toes warm with protective clothing. 
  • Limit time spent in cold and damp conditions. 
  • Use warm, dry heat to affected areas if needed. 

It is also important to pay attention to the weather, and changing conditions to ensure you are prepared.  

If you are interested in learning more about how to avoid cold weather injuries, DF Safety offers an online course, Cold Stress Training, which helps create awareness among employees of the hazards that are involved in working in cold environments. Additionally, the course identifies the nature, symptoms and treatment of cold stresses and the precautions employees should take to protect themselves.