In the winter months, many shift-workers routinely work in cold Conditions. If not prepared, working in a cold environment can lead to adverse effects on shiftworker performance and health.
Cold can also interfere with other factors in the workplace, modifying or aggravating the risk of common hazards and increasing the risk of injuries.
Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can result in serious health problems, such as frostbite and hypothermia. Therefore, shiftworkers should be aware of cold effects on the body and proper prevention strategies.
How the body responds to the cold:
In a cold environment, the body uses most of its energy to maintain its core temperature. Under cold conditions, blood vessels in skin, arms and legs constrict, to reduce blood flow to extremities, in order to conserve heat (minimizing cooling of the blood) and keep critical internal organs warm.
At very low temperatures, when blood flow to exposed skin and extremities is reduced, they can cool rapidly, which increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. In general, people in good physical health are less susceptible to cold injury.
The following factors increase the risk of cold injuries:
• Age: older adults are more susceptible
• Gender: women are generally at greater risk of cold injuries
• Certain diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease
• Consumption of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine
• Certain medications
• Inadequate clothing
Early-warning signs of cold-related illness:
• Hands become numb
• Involuntary shivering
• Loss of fine motor coordination (particularly in hands, i.e., having trouble with buttons, zips, laces)
• Slurred speech
• Difficulty in thinking clearly
Once two or more signs have been experienced or observed, you should stop working and take steps to safeguard health.
How to protect yourself from the cold:
The following is a summary of actions including some recommendations from the ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists).
• Limit exposure to cold environment.
• Buddy system - Individuals may not recognize their own symptoms. A buddy can help detect signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
• Diet – Balanced meals and adequate liquid intake are essential to maintain body heat and prevent Dehydration.
• Appropriate clothing – Clothing should be selected to suit the temperature, weather conditions, the level and duration of activity and job design. Clothing should be worn in multiple layers, since the air between layer of clothing provides better insulation that the clothing itself.
• Appropriate footwear and socks.