Workers are exposed to the elements of winter in many industries where outside labor is mandatory.
As you might imagine, hypothermia can and does kill. Humans are designed to function normally at a body temperature of 37° C (98.6° F). Hypothermia is defined as a core internal temperature less than 35 ° C.
Employees suffer from hypothermia when they lose body temperature in cold weather as a result of exposure. This can occur at temperatures that many people wouldn’t consider threatening. Most hypothermia cases develop in temperatures between 30 ° F and 50 ° F.
It is important to have an understanding of hypothermia and how to treat it. This is essential to your survival and the survival of co-workers.
There are many ways the body loses heat, including:
Radiation – Loss of heat to the environment due to a temperature gradient (less than 98.6° F).
Conduction – This occurs through direct contact with objects and molecular transfer of heat energy. Water conducts heat away from the body 25 to 30 times faster than air because it has a greater density.
Convection – A process of conduction where one of the objects is in motion. Air moving over your body draws heat away from your body. Wind chill is an example of convection.
Evaporation – This occurs when water is converted from a liquid state to a gas.
Respiration – This is from inspired air raised to body temperature and then exhaled.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
Due to physiological, medical and environmental factors, the person’s core temperature has decreased to 36° C (96.8 ° F). The person will increase physical activity in an attempt to warm up. The skin may become pale, numb and waxy. Muscles become tense and shivering may begin. Fatigue and signs of weakness may also begin to show.
Get the person out of the cold, windy, wet environment. Place him or her in a warm environment, such as a dog house, control room or other enclosure. Provide the person with a warm drink, but no alcohol, coffee or tea. Halt further heat loss by insulating the person with extra clothing, etc. With this treatment a victim should recover quickly. However, be careful not to expose a severely hypothermic victim to extreme heat.