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Cold work environment

Cold Storage Storage rooms for food can be very cold work environments, and this worker has put on the needed good clothings for work here. © University of Bergen/Frode Ims

Workplaces

Several types of workplaces are cold, such as outdoor work in areas with low temperature. Extreme situations can be found in artic areas. Less extreme situations occur for instance among workers in construction, but it is still possible for low temperatures to cause serious problems. Fishermen and sailors are also at risk. If they fall in cold water, their body temperature can decrease rapidly. Some workers work in cold indoor environments, like in certain storage and packing rooms.

Physiology

On the skin there are cold sensors that send out cold signals when the skin temperature is below 34°C. Cold temperature causes:

  • Reduced blood flow over the skin
  • Shivering to increase muscle activity (increase metabolism)

These physiological effects are the mechanism behind the typical symptoms a worker may get in a cold environment. The skin becomes pale, and the person is shivering

Fishing Fishing can be performed in warm areas, but often takes place in cold waters, where there is a risk of cold stress if a fisherman falls in the sea. © Colourbox

Cold stress

Cooling of body parts may result in various cold injuries - nonfreezing injuries, freezing injuries - and hypothermia, which is the most serious.

Toes, fingers, ears and nose are at greatest risk because these areas do not have major muscles to produce heat. In addition, the body will preserve heat by favouring the internal organs and thus reducing the flow of blood to the extremities under cold conditions. Hands and feet tend to get cold more quickly than the torso because they lose heat more rapidly since they have a higher surface area-to-volume ratio, and they are more likely to be in contact with colder surfaces than other parts of the body. If the eyes are not protected with goggles in high wind chill conditions, the corneas of the eyes may freeze.

The most severe cold injury is hypothermia, which results from excessive loss of body heat and the consequent lowering of the inner core temperature (internal temperature of the body). Hypothermia can be fatal.

First aid for cold stress

  • Move the person to a warm, dry area.
  • Remove wet clothes and replace with dry clothes, cover the body with layers of blankets; Do not cover the face.
  • Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol), to help increase the body temperature. Never try to give a drink to an unconscious person.
  • Place warm bottles or hot packs in armpits, sides of chest, and groin.

Prevention

Cold stress situations can be prevented by avoiding work in cold temperatures. If this type of work is needed, the periods in the cold should be short and controlled. The workers need proper clothing to keep warm. Emergency procedures must be developed.

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This article is from the free online course:

Occupational Health in Developing Countries

University of Bergen