Although winters in Kansas can be mild, you would be wise to be prepared for severe conditions if your occupation requires you to spend time working outdoors. Safety authorities recommend the buddy system, by which pairs of workers look out for each other. Cold stress often causes confusion, and lone workers may not even realize what is happening.
If you learn more about cold-related hazards, you might save both your own and your buddy's life and limbs. The most dangerous cold-related conditions are hypothermia and frostbite, and learning how to recognize signs and symptoms and what to do in such emergencies are crucial.
Hypothermia sets in when your body cannot produce enough heat to raise the core temperature. Keep in mind that wind chill plays a vital role in the speed at which your body loses heat. You and your buddy can watch each other for any of the following signs of hypothermia:
- Excessive shivering, which may subside as the condition worsens
- Weakness or numbness in your limbs and extremities
- Apathy because of impaired judgment
- A glassy stare and perhaps even loss of consciousness
The first thing to do if you notice the red flags in your buddy is to call for EMS personnel, and while awaiting their arrival, your goal should be to restore the body heat to the normal level. However, there is a right and wrong way of achieving this, and choosing the wrong way can put your co-worker's life on the line. Here are the steps to take:
- Move the person to a warm place and monitor his or her circulation and breathing.
- You may have to perform CPR or rescue breathing.
- It is crucial to warm the body from the core, through the trunk and the abdomen, to keep the vital organs functioning. Once the body is warm, you can work on warming the hands and feet.
- Remove wet clothing because it keeps the body cold, and slowly dress the co-worker in dry clothing or wrap him or her in blankets. Gradual warming is crucial to avoid the body going into shock by causing unnatural heart rhythms.
Frostbite typically happens to the extremities, including hands and fingers, feet and toes, the nose, and earlobes. You can prevent this by limiting exposure to cold and wet conditions. Take action as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- The loss of feeling in the mentioned body parts.
- Do not stay outdoors if your skin feels cold to the touch.
- Discoloration is another red flag. If your skin seems flushed or turns gray, white, blue or yellow, it is time for emergency treatment.
Get yourself or your buddy to a warm place, and while waiting for emergency services to arrive, treat the affected areas as follows:
- Avoid rubbing the affected areas. Handle it gently instead.
- Soaking in water no warmer than 105 degrees can gradually warm the affected areas.
- Once the areas feel warm and the normal color returns, you can apply dry, sterile dressings and loosely wrapped bandages. You can also place the dressings between frostbitten toes and fingers.
- Avoid breaking blisters, and never allow the warmed-up areas to freeze again.
How will you cope with the unanticipated financial consequences?
You will likely be eligible for workers' compensation benefits to cover your medical bills if you suffer a cold-related injury. If you were unable to return to work for several days, your benefits might include a portion of your lost wages. The claims process can seem daunting at a time when you would instead want to focus on recovering and getting back to work. However, an experienced Kansas workers' compensation attorney can provide guidance and support every step of the way.