Working outside in frigid temperatures requires many precautions, and we do all we can to keep warm and stay safe while working outside in the winter. It was 16 degrees, but we were out on the job taking care of our customers. We know the signs of hypothermia and frostbite, but do you? Here are a few tips and precautions for working and playing outside in harsh conditions.
Hypothermia can come on very slowly, making it difficult to notice that it’s happening. When your body is cold, you try to protect yourself by shivering. When hypothermia sets in, the shivering stops as your body is now trying to conserve energy. This is one of the first warning signs of hypothermia. You might also begin to feel clumsy and disoriented as your body temperature drops. Other signs include forgetfulness, drowsiness, slurred speech, slow or irregular heartbeat, and shallow breathing.
Mild frostbite (frostnip) makes the skin look white or waxy but the color returns once the skin is warm again. Once thawed, the skin might turn red and it could take a while for the redness to go away.
Severe frostbite begins with white or waxy-looking skin, but the color becomes grey or bluish as the damage progresses. The cold feeling disappears and is replaced with numbness, and blisters might form. At this point, it’s very easy to cause other damage besides the actual freezing. For example, because you might have lost feeling in a foot that is frostbitten, you might not feel blisters forming and breaking. A frozen finger could break easily in a fall, and skin can burn very easily if it’s not warmed up properly.
As a frozen body part warms up, the area may swell, itch, burn, and be extremely painful. Extreme frostbite will turn the skin black, and gangrene may develop, in which case amputation may be needed.
Before venturing outside in winter, be sure to:
- Check the temperature and limit your time outdoors if it’s very cold, wet or windy
- Bundle up in several layers of loose clothing
- Wear mittens rather than gloves
- Cover your ears with a warm hat
- Wear socks that will keep your feet warm and dry
Even skin that is protected can be subject to frostbite. It’s the most common injury resulting from exposure to severe cold, and it usually occurs on fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.
If you suspect frostbite:
- Get indoors immediately
- Seek medical attention
- Remove constrictive clothing and jewelry that could impair circulation
- Place dry, sterile gauze between toes and fingers to absorb moisture and keep them from sticking together
- Elevate the affected area to reduce pain and swelling
- For superficial frostbite, you may also place the affected area in water that is 100 to 105 degrees until the tissue softens