According to recent weather statistics, average February temperatures in Louisiana range from 43 to 64 degrees. Consequently, many Louisiana workers who have become accustomed to working in these milder than usual winter temperatures find themselves ill-prepared when a sudden cold snap occurs. Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation (LWCC) is reminding employers to make sure that workers are properly prepared for working in extremely cold weather conditions.
“Many employers are unaware that prolonged exposure to lower than average winter temperatures, combined with high relative humidity and wind, can lead to serious health problems such as frostbite and hypothermia, which can result in lost workdays,” says Bruce Lambert, LWCC director of safety and loss prevention. “In extreme cases, such as cold water immersion, exposure can even result in death.”
Employees must be able to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that lead to potential frostbite and hypothermia. They must learn the signs and symptoms of these cold-induced illnesses/injuries and what to do to help a co-worker. Frostbite is literally the freezing in deep layers of skin and tissue. The skin turns waxy-white becoming hard and numb. It generally affects the fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears and nose. Hypothermia may occur with only a two-degree drop from the body’s core temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Early signals include fatigue or drowsiness with uncontrolled shivering, cool bluish skin, and slurred speech. It can result in loss of motor functions such as movement, reaction time and mental alertness, all of which are needed for optimal workplace performance.
Employers should provide training in appropriate steps to take in protecting workers from such weather related exposures. When selecting cold weather work clothes, workers should consider the wind chill factor (a slight 10mph wind can make a temperature of 40 degrees feel like 28 degrees) and other environmental conditions for the day.
Workers should also:
Plan breaks in warm dry shelters to allow the body to warm up
Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks)
Avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, or hot chocolate)
Eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes
To help avoid cold-induced illnesses/injuries in the workplace, LWCC recommends the following preventive measures:
Dressing in layers to protect against wet and windy conditions
Wearing clothing that breathes and removes moisture from the skin
Wearing a hat and gloves
Reducing exposure time to the elements
Keeping extra clothing at work, in case of wetness or coldness
Proper training about driving in inclement weather (snow, rain and sleet)
“With forethought and proper training, employers can save money while ensuring employee safety during adverse winter conditions,” says Lambert.
For related links and more information on working safely in cold weather, as well as a variety of other helpful workplace safety topics, visit LWCC’s Web site at www.lwcc.com.
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