KINGMAN - Jessie Atencio is on a mission to educate companies about the dangers of cold weather to employees who work outside or in under-heated warehouses.
Atencio, assistant director of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health in Tucson, is traveling the state to warn employers to protect their workers from extreme cold. Atencio was visiting Kingman last week for the first time to bring his message to an area that can see snow at higher elevations and cold snaps at lower elevations during the winter months.
"We're taking a proactive approach to this issue by coming here and talking about it," said Atencio. "It never snows in Phoenix, but it does here. So we want to help employers in Mohave County get proper training to prevent cold-weather injuries, put a plan in place in case someone is displaying symptoms and have a response kit available to help them."
Those employees in danger of succumbing to cold stress include delivery personnel, road crews, teachers taking their classes outside, well-diggers and people working in large, under-heated warehouses. Atencio said ADOSH is tasked with investigating violations if an employee complaint is received, a fatality occurs or there is a workplace catastrophe with three or more injuries.
When the body is unable warm itself, said Atencio, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Hypothermia is the biggest threat and takes place when the body's temperature drops to or below 95 degrees. It can cause fatigue or drowsiness, cool bluish skin, uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements and irritable, irrational or confused behavior.
To treat a worker with hypothermia, move the victim into a warm room or shelter, remove wet clothing, warm the center of his body first with an electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact and administer warm beverages if the victim is conscious. Keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck, until medical assistance arrives.
Another danger is frostbite, said Atencio, which usually affects the hands, feet, ears and nose. Symptoms include reduced blood flow to extremities, numbness, tingling or stinging, aching and a bluish or pale waxy skin color. Workers suffering from frostbite should get into a warm room as soon as possible, immerse the affected area in warm water or warm it with body heat, and call for medical assistance. Do not massage the frostbitten area.
Atencio said companies must recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that lead to potential cold-induced illnesses and injuries. Also, they must learn the signs and symptoms and train employees to understand them, he said. Workers are at increased risk of cold stress when they have predisposing health conditions, take certain medications, are in poor physical shape, have a poor diet or are older.
Outdoor workers should take frequent short breaks in warm, dry shelters to allow the body to heat back up, perform work during the warmest part of the day, and avoid exhaustion or fatigue, as energy is needed to keep muscles warm. Also, they should use the buddy system and work in pairs, drink warm and sweet beverages while avoiding caffeine or alcohol, and eat warm, high-calorie foods such as pasta dishes.
ADOSH provides free training for companies with 10 or more employees, including webinars and other programs. Also, the state agency will present its first safety summit in Kingman in February, said Atencio. For more information about training, call ADOSH toll-free at (855) 268-5251.
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