When your body temperature drops even a few degrees below normal (about 98.6° F), you can begin to shiver uncontrollably and become weak, drowsy, disoriented, unconscious or even fatally ill. This loss of body heat is known as “cold stress” or hypothermia. People who work outdoors in cold climates or in refrigerated environments should learn how to protect against loss of body heat. The following guidelines can help you keep your body warm and prevent the dangerous consequences of hypothermia:
SUIT UP FOR THE COLD: DRESS IN LAYERS
Layering your clothes allows you to adjust what you’re wearing to suit the temperature. In cold weather, wear polypropylene or lightweight wool next to your skin to wick moisture away and wool layers on top. For work outside, choose outer garments made of waterproof, wind resistant fabric, such as nylon. Always wear a hat to prevent heat loss from your head.
Cold weather puts an extra strain on your heart. Work carefully in cold weather. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work. Remember, your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so don’t overdo it.
Water chills your body far more rapidly than air or wind. Even in the heat of summer, falling into a 40° F lake could be fatal. Always take a dry set of clothing whenever you’re working outdoors. Wear waterproof boots in damp or snowy weather and pack rain gear when there’s a chance of precipitation.
WORK WITH A BUDDY
The effects of hypothermia can be gradual and often go unnoticed until it’s too late. If you know you’ll be working outdoors for an extended period of time, work with a partner. If that’s not possible, let someone know where you’ll be and when you expect to return. Ask a coworker to check you frequently for overexposure to the cold; do the same for your buddy. Check for shivering, slurred speech, mental confusion, drowsiness and weakness. If you show any of the above signs, get indoors as soon as possible and warm up.