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Protect Workers and Their Feet in the Cold

Julie Copeland

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I don’t know many workers who love the colder temperatures… or enjoy working when theirProtect workers and their feet in a cold work environment. feet are cold.

Cold temperatures make it a real challenge to be both productive... and safe. It's important to keep your feet warm and dry in cold weather to protect against the elements.  Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures may cause serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In extreme cases, including cold water immersion, exposure can lead to death.

As shared by Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures may cause serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. Danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. If these signs are observed, call for emergency help.

The fact is, anyone working in a cold environment may be at risk of Cold Stress. Since some workers may be required to work outdoors in cold environments for long periods of time, these workers are more at risk and need to understand what Cold Stress is, how it may affect them, and most importantly, how they can prevent it to stay safe.

Whenever temperatures drop below normal and wind speed increases, heat can leave the body more rapidly. The temperature the body feels when air temperature and wind speed are combined is Wind Chill. When the skin temperature and the internal body temperature lowers, it results in Cold Stress, which could be very serious. Prolonged exposure can lead to tissue damage or even death.

As reported by OSHA, some of the risk factors that contribute to Cold Stress include:

  • Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly, and exhaustion

  • Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes

  • Poor physical conditioning

Our bodies have a build-in protection to keep our internal core warm. Exposure to the elements, over time, shifts blood flow away from the hands, feet, legs, arms and outer skin to the chest and abdomen area. Such a shift in flow introduces exposed skin and the extremities to possible frostbite and hypothermia. Add wetness to this scenario and you could easily get Trench Foot.

Trench Foot can occur at temperatures as high as 60°F if the feet are constantly wet. Non-freezing injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet. To prevent heat loss, the body constricts the blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. The skin tissue begins to die because of a lack of oxygen and nutrients and due to the buildup of toxic products.

OSHA offers a Quick Card™ that focuses on Cold Stress. The card provides a reference guide and recommendations to combat and prevent many illnesses and injuries related to Cold Stress. Available in English and Spanish, this laminated fold-up card is free to employers, workers and the public. You can find it online at: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3156.pdf.

Tips include:

How to Protect Workers

  • Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may be dangerous.

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries and what to do to help workers.

  • Train workers about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.

  • Encourage workers to wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions, including layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.

  • Be sure workers in extreme conditions take a frequent short break in warm dry shelters to allow their bodies to warm up.

  • Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.

  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.

  • Use the buddy system - work in pairs so that one worker can recognize danger signs.

  • Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate) or alcohol.

  • Eat warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta dishes.

  • Remember, workers face increased risks when they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

With regard to foot protection, OSHA recommends employees wear insulated and waterproof boots (or other footwear). The key is to keep your feet warm and dry in the cold elements.

Arbill offers a wide selection of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including various types of footwear that protect from the cold.  Visit our www.arbill.com to find the protective footwear that’s right for you all year long.

Stay warm… and stay safe!

Topics: Cold Stress/Winter Weather Safety

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