No, Utah’s great work force is not on strike. However, for several months of every year labors and workers face freezing temps throughout the state. Aevitas Physical Therapy and Wellness would like to help spread the word and reduce the risk of cold related injuries to those that keep our state working. Utah can be a great place to live and work. We have four beautiful season, some of the best mountains, scenic landscapes, wonderful people and great companies. Having four season, however, can have its down falls especially for those that work outside. It is not quite 2016 and we have already seen temps in the twenties for a high in Salt Lake City. Other areas of the State have been much colder. Therefore, preparations for cold weather work are very important to reduce the risks of cold stress/exposure injury. The Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division (UOSH) of the Utah Labor Commission has seen an increase in cold weather related injuries which can cause cold stress for workers (public release Dec 28th, 2015).
In cold environments the body is forced to use more energy to maintain its temperature. Cold stress occurs when the body temperature starts to drop and then continues to do so. This may lead to serious health problems, cause tissue damage, and possibly death. This can lead to the two most common issues from working in the cold, frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing of tissue cells. If cold for too long, those cells can be damaged or die. The lower the temperature, the quicker frostbite can occur. Frostbite typically affects the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, chin, hands and feet. In severe cases amputation may be needed. Some symptoms of frostbite are cold skin, a prickling feeling, pain in the affected areas, numbness, reddened skin that develops gray or white patches, affected area feels firm or hard, and in severe cases blisters may occur.
Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature drops below about 95°F and the body cannot replace heat as fast as it escapes. When our body temperature drops it starts to slow down the important organs we need to stay alive; heart, brain, blood vessels, etc. This is the most serious type of cold stress. Some symptoms of mild hypothermia are shivering, dizziness, nausea, faster breathing, increased heart rate, slight confusion, lack of coordination and fatigue. Symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia are when the body stops shivering, confusion, slurred speech, lack of concern about one’s condition, weak heart rate, slow/shallow breathing, loss of consciousness and possibly death.
Besides the two major issues with the cold mentioned above, being exposed to Utah cold can increase risk for injury in other ways that should not be overlooked by employers. One of the most obvious should be slips and falls. We all know water freezes. For those working out side in the cold even a small patch of ice can wreak havoc to those that slip and fall. Many will injure themselves this year just trying to walk into work or around the work site because of ice. Cold exposure can reduce feeling in our fingers, hands, toes and feet. For those working with tools and equipment this can be disastrous. Most tools will pull body heat away from hands and fingers making it harder to stay warm. As our body parts cold they will loose feeling. This makes it harder to use, grip and maneuver the tools safely. There will be more drops of equipment, more hitting of hands, etc. As our dexterity reduces, our risk of damaging our hands goes up. Another risk from the cold is that our bodies take longer to be ready to move. We have all felt how the cold makes us tight, less flexible. This will increase our risk of general injuries to backs, necks, knees, shoulder and so forth just from it being harder to lift, push and pull in a normal days work.
The list could go on. It is important that employers and employees understand how the cold can affect them and to be prepared. Proper clothing and outerwear are important. Be prepared for temperature drops as storms may move in or access to heat may be limited (such as with a broken down vehicle or other emergency). Access to heat sources, food and water are also important. Talking with employees about the symptoms and encouraging everyone to watch out for others. The snow and cold can be beautiful, but it can also be deadly if not prepared. Stay warm out there Utah workers!
We are here to help, if you and your employees need help reducing cold related injuries, please contact us for more information.