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We hear about heat stress much in Arizona for much of the year, but workers in our state also can suffer from cold stress. This happens when one’s skin temperature is driven down, eventually reducing the core (internal) body temperature. Cold stress may lead to serious health problems, such as tissue damage or even death.

People who work in a cold environment, like sanitation, construction, emergency and first responders, landscaping and agriculture and delivery drivers may all be subject to cold stress.

Contributing risk factors that can lead to cold stress include:

  • Cold rain or dampness
  • Workers not dressed for cold weather (layers)\
  • Fatigue
  • Workers who have health conditions (hypertension, hypothyroidism, diabetes)
  • Poor physical condition
  • Cold stress injuries and illnesses include frostbite and hypothermia.

Hypothermia is a physical condition that happens when the body’s heat is lost faster than it can be generated, dropping below 98.6°F to less than 95°F. While workers in very cold temperatures may suffer hypothermia, even cool temperatures (above 40°F) may cause the condition, especially if a worker has become chilled from sweat or getting wet.

In a mild case of hypothermia, the worker is alert but may show signs of shivering; he or she may begin patting arms and stamping feet to induce more body heat. More moderate to severe cases occur when a worker’s body temperature falls; although shivering will stop, other symptoms will worsen.

The worker may seem uncoordinated, confused or disoriented, may be unable to stand or walk. The pupils of the eyes will be dilated while the pulse and breathing slow; he or she may suffer loss of consciousness. Immediate help is needed to prevent the worker from dying.

If someone on the job site looks to be suffering these symptoms, take these steps:

  1. Call 911 as soon as first symptoms are recognized.
  2. Place workers in a warm, dry area. If their clothes are wet, remove and replace them with dry garments. Use layers of blankets to cover the body, head and neck; add a vapor barrier (a tarp or plastic garbage bag will do). Do NOT cover the worker’s face.
  3. If emergency medical help is more than a half hour away, administer warm, sweetened non alcoholic drinks to help generate a higher body temperature. Put warm bottles or hot packs in the worker’s armpits, on side of the chest and on the groin area.
  4. If the worker has no pulse or has stopped breathing, or there is no pulse after 60 seconds, trained personnel may start rescue breaths for 3 minutes. A recheck for breathing and a pulse should be conducted for the next 60 seconds. If still no breath or pulse, continue rescue breathing. Always check with a 911 operator or medical first responder before starting chest compressions; continue to reassess worker’s physical status every few minutes.

CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Company is Arizona’s leading provider of workers’ compensation insurance. For more safety information that you can pass on to your employees and clients, visit CopperPoint has also launched, a blog written by subject matter experts designed to answer labor law, workplace safety, human resources and workers’ compensation questions that plague small business employers.

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