Cold as ice? Don't be willing to sacrifice your ... safety
KINGMAN - Arizona isn't normally associated with cold and frigid winters. In Kingman, December highs typically hover in the mid-50s throughout the month, with overnight lows hitting freezing. For most people, a light coat will get them comfortably through the work day.
But as temperatures start to drop going into the New Year, especially with employees who regularly work outside, staying safe in the cold is a serious concern for both employees and employers alike.
"Many jobs are prone to cold stress, especially those that work in construction and agriculture as well as those that work at golf courses, car washes and are emergency first responders," said Jessie Atencio,
assistant director for the Arizona Division of Occupation Safety and Health, or ADOSH.
It's not just outside jobs, either. Anyone can be subject to working in the elements, including delivery runners and grocery store clerks.
"Employers whose staff works outside or in poorly ventilated buildings especially need to be aware of what can happen when exposed to freezing temperatures for long periods of time," said Atencio.
In Kingman, Atencio said that businesses at the Kingman Airport, police officers, road crews and construction workers are subject to the elements the most. Temporary employees are also particularly at risk, especially for those new to the region or those not acclimated to the job they are performing.
Danger signs of cold stress include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. Symptoms of cold stress include hypothermia, trench foot and frostbite. If these signs are observed, call for emergency help. In extreme cases, including cold-water immersion, exposure can lead to death.
Especially with cold, wet weather anticipated this winter, trench foot is a real danger for those working outside. Also known as immersion foot, trench foot is an injury of the feet resulting from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Repeatedly getting socks and shoes wet, even at temperatures going into the high 50s, can cause the body to constrict blood vessels and shut down circulation to the feet to preserve heat. This can lead to skin tissue dying off and permanent nerve damage.
ADOSH approaches cold stress much like it handles heat stress. Atencio recommends employers and employees preplan the day by taking a look at the weather and work to be done. Employees such as construction workers should look at working in 15-minute rotating shifts during extremely cold weather. Work during the warmest part of the day, keep dry and stay hydrated.
"When getting dressed, utilize layered clothing," said Atencio. "Keep your body warm and your skin as unexposed as possible, and take off layers as you feel comfortable."
For more information on cold stress, visit the Center for Disease Control's website at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/coldstress or OSHA's website at www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/cold.