Hypothermia is one of the major hazards employees working outside can face. This is especially true with the harsh weather we have experienced so far and winter has only just begun.
The Farmer’s Almanac got it right when they predicted the southern area of B.C. would see colder-than-normal temperatures with more precipitation than usual. Members that work outside need to recognize the early warning signs of hypothermia before their condition deteriorates to moderate or severe hypothermia. The stages are:
Mild hypothermia • Bouts of shivering • Grogginess, poor judgement, muddled thinking and abnormal behaviour • Normal breathing and pulse
The onset of hypothermia may be delayed — watch for the early signs. If you suspect hypothermia, monitor your condition or that of your co-workers, even after you have left work.
Moderate hypothermia • Violent shivering or shivering that has stopped altogether • Inability to think and pay attention i.e. the victim cannot understand what is being said • Slow, shallow breathing, slurred speech, or poor body coordination i.e. a stumbling gait • Slow, weak pulse
Severe hypothermia • Shivering has stopped • Unconsciousness • Little or no breathing • Weak, irregular, or non-existent pulse
You can reduce the risks of hypothermia by staying warm and dry. Cover your head and layer your clothing. Protect your feet and hands and stay well hydrated with non-alcoholic beverages.
As per the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation sections 7.33 – 7.38, your employer must:
Conduct a cold stress assessment to determine the potential for hazardous exposure of workers. If it is determined that workers are at risk, the employer must develop and implement a cold exposure control plan. The control plan must consist of measures that effectively reduce the hazard to acceptable levels as set out by the Regulation.
These controls could include engineering controls like erecting heated shelters or administrative controls such as increasing the frequency of warm up breaks. Personal protective equipment should be utilized such as insulating clothing or eye protection if exposed to glare or blowing ice crystals.
If a worker shows signs of hypothermia, they must be removed from further exposure and provided with medical attention. Remember, you have the right to work in a safe workplace, indoors and outside.
If you have any questions, contact your Occupational Health and Safety Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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