Water Well Journal

December 2015

Water Well Journal

Issue link: http://read.dmtmag.com/i/608970

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Page 36 of 89

A s anyone who's lived or worked in it knows, a cold en- vironment makes everything harder. You fumble with numb fingers under bulky gloves. You slip on the ice. You shiver at the sight of your breath hitting the icy air. Working under extremely cold conditions is not only in- convenient and uncomfortable—it can pose serious threats to your health if you don't take some basic precautions. What's more, the symptoms of cold-related ailments are easy to over- look even though they can cause irreversible tissue damage and even kill in extreme cases. Working in a cold environment can involve several adverse effects on human performance and health. Workers suffering from exposure to the cold can experience thermal discomfort, increased strain, decreased performance, and cold-related dis- eases and injuries. Cold can also modify or aggravate the risk of common hazards and increase the risk of cold-associated injuries. What Is Too Cold No matter what the temperature is around your body, it continuously strives to maintain its normal internal tempera- ture of 98.6°. (A drop of just a few degrees can be life-threat- ening.) For most of us, that means we're most comfortable working in an environment of about 73° (with 45% humidity). But if your work is extremely labor-intensive (and thus heat- generating) the ideal working temperature could be as low as 55°—even without special clothing to ward off the cold. Wind Chill When you're calculating safety, don't forget to include wind chill. This factor combines air temperature with wind velocity. Consider this example: On a 40° day with a 35-mile- per-hour wind blowing, the temperature your exposed skin is experiencing is not 40°—it's 11°! What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccus- tomed to winter weather, near-freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and wind speed increases, heat can more rapidly leave your body. These weather-related conditions may lead to serious health problems. Health Effects of Cold While the body has some effective mechanisms to adjust to extreme heat, it has few tricks to deal with the cold. Its first line of defense is to constrict blood vessels and limit blood flow to the extremities (your hands and feet) and to the skin's surface. That way, less body heat from the blood is lost through the skin into the environment. The body's only other defense against the cold is shivering, which generates heat by increasing the body's metabolism. Cold temperatures have hazardous effects on humans and their ability to work well. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, the negative effects include dehydration, numb- ness, shivering, frostbite, and hypothermia. These negative effects are experienced first on the outer surface of the body and gradually progress to deep body tis- sues and the body core. When the body's core temperature drops below 95° (from its normal 98.6°) it is defined as hypothermia, which along with frostbite is one of the more extreme dangers of prolonged work in cold weather. Frostbite Frostbite is a severe reaction by the skin to cold that can permanently damage fingers, toes, the nose, and earlobes. Frostbite actually freezes and crystallizes the fluids in the body tissues and cellular spaces. This can damage the blood vessels, causing blood clotting and lack of oxygen to the affected area and deeper tissues. Frostbite can occur in just a few minutes if conditions are cold enough with a high wind chill on unprotected body parts. In severe cases, frostbite can kill and damage tissue to the extent that amputation may be required. How severe frostbite can be depends on the length of time someone is exposed to the cold, the temperature outside, the wind chill, the force of the wind, the amount of humidity in the air, damp clothing, high altitudes, and whether the person has ingested alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs can impair thinking—which can cause more damage due to a lack of common sense in caring for the affected area. Alcohol and drugs can further constrict blood vessels and prevent warm blood from reaching affected areas, worsening the frostbite. Some employees are at higher risk of frostbite: older em- ployees, those with circulation problems, anyone with a previous history of frostbite, those who ingested alcohol or nicotine, someone taking beta-blocker medications. Workers ALEXANDRA WALSH KEEPING THE CHILL OUT Do you and your team know how to work safely in cold weather? SAFETY MATTERS 34 December 2015 WWJ waterwelljournal.com Training all employees about the dangers of cold temperatures is essential.

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