(Photo: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Hot environments are a topic often given attention but cold environments also present a very real and serious hazard to workers. Because construction workers spend much of their time outdoors, working in extreme environments are a particular concern.
Our bodies are unable to acclimatize to the cold in the same manner that they can adapt to heat and so some would argue that extreme cold is more dangerous than extreme heat. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injury may occur and permanent tissue damage and possibly death may result.
Lowering of body temperature (also known as hypothermia) has an effect on the brain, causing erratic behaviour and numbness, muscular weakness and cramps. Hypothermia can occur when land temperatures are above freezing or water temperatures are below 37° C and symptoms may include fatigue and drowsiness, uncontrolled shivering, bluish skin, slurred speech or inability to speak, hypothermia, irritable or confused behaviour or even frost bite.
Some of the long term effects can include arthritis, rheumatism, chest complaints and heart disease, because of the strain on the heart caused by circulatory changes so this is not an issue to be taken lightly.
In order to work safely in a cold environment:
- Wear the appropriate PPE (Personal protective wear)
- Take breaks in a warm place or rest area out of the cold and get warm
- Drink warm liquids such as soup or hot chocolate
- Take frequent rest breaks out of the cold
- Delay outdoor work until it can be undertaken at a warmer time of the year.
Workers should receive training and be warned in advance of the presence of this hazard. They should also know how to react in the face of this hazard and what to do in emergencies such as hypothermia.