You may think that cold stress occurs only when the weather is sub-zero, but that is absolutely not true. There are a number of factors which can lead to cold stress, including the temperature, the humidity, and whether or not there is wind. People have suffered hypothermia on windy, humid days when the temperature is in the 50s. Keep this in mind when working out in the cold.
There are many indications that a person is suffering from cold stress. These signs might be missed until the victim needs immediate medical treatment, unless someone is watching for them. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN. Constantly watch for these signs in others and in yourself.
Impending Cold Stress
The victim exhibits:
- Pale, numb, and waxy skin
- Tense muscles
- Signs of fatigue and weakness
If these signs occur, remove the person from the cold and/or wet environment, provide external heat, and provide a hot drink. DO NOT give them alcohol, coffee, or tea.
Mild Cold Stress
The victim experiences:
- Uncontrolled shivering
- Uncoordinated movement
- Pain and discomfort
Remove the person from the cold environment, keep the head and neck covered to prevent further heat loss, provide a warm and sweetened drink (again, NO alcohol, tea, or coffee) and also provide high-energy food.
Severe Cold Stress
- Cold skin which may be bluish in color
- Weakness and poor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Exhaustion (victim will likely deny the problem and refuse help)
- Irrational and incoherent behavior
- Confusion and disorientation
- Gradual loss of consciousness
- Little or no breathing
- Physical rigidity (may appear to be dead)
If this happens, call for medical help and begin immediate external warming. One method is to put the person into a warmed sleeping bag with two other people while mild heat is applied to stop heat loss; do not, however, try to re-warm them with the heat. It is only to stop heat loss. Keep the person awake if at all possible. Check for a pulse and breathing. If neither is present, begin CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Continue until the medical help arrives.
Never give up on a cold stress victim.
There have been cases where people were resuscitated even when they appeared to be dead. Under no circumstances should it be allowed to progress that far, because there are many ways to prevent cold stress, each of which is a potential way to save lives.
If workers have to be out in the cold, try to heat the area. If you cannot get the area heated, work on the other factors that contribute to cold stress. Blocking off the flow of the wind through the site will significantly reduce the wind-chill factor, making it warmer in the site even though the actual temperature remains the same. Always make sure workers are properly dressed for the conditions, as even the best preventative measures can be useless if the workers don’t have enough insulation. Always monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress. Keep these measures in mind, and keep everyone safe from the cold.
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