Preparing for Winter

Now that winter is upon us, it's a good time to review some of the safety issues related to winter weather.

Preventing Cold Stress

The key ingredients to preventing loss of body heat are staying warm, and understanding what you can do to protect against conditions that can cause hypothermia.  Hypothermia can be fatal, but it can also be prevented.

Outdoors, indoors, in mild weather or in cold, it pays to dress in layers.  Layering your clothes allows you to adjust what you're wearing to suit the temperature conditions.

In cold weather, wear cotton, polypropylene, or lightweight wool next to your skin, and wool layers over your undergarments. For outdoor activities, choose outer garments made of water-proof, wind-resistant fabrics such as nylon.  Since a great deal of body heat is lost through the head, always wear a hat for added protection.

Water chills your body far more rapidly than air or wind.  Always take along a dry set of clothing whenever you are working (or playing) outdoors.  Wear waterproof boots in damp or snowy weather, and always pack raingear (even if the forecast calls for sunny skies).

The affects of hypothermia can be gradual, and often go unnoticed until it's too late.  If you know you will be outdoors for an extended period of time, take along a companion or, at the very least, have a time and place set for your return.

First Aid For Hypothermia

The body's normal temperature is usually about 98.6 F.  When a person gets so chilled that his body cannot warm up, it's called hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, mental confusion, drowsiness, and weakness.

Even if you only suspect hypothermia, call an ambulance or doctor right away.  Then, use first aid and bring the person into a warm place (or shelter from any wind, rain, or snow and keep the head covered).  Remove all wet clothing and bundle with dry blankets or dress in dry clothing.  Don't rub or massage the victim or place the victim in hot water.  Give warm beverages (but no alcohol or caffeine) if the person is conscious.

Frostbite Concerns

Often, a victim of frostbite is not even aware of the damage being done.  So, it is important to know the symptoms and first aid treatment.  Frostbite happens when the fluids and tissues of the skin freeze.

When it is very coldespecially when the wind blows hardit is difficult to keep the ends of your body warm.  Your greatest danger is to your nose, cheeks, ears, toes, and fingers.  When you are in the cold, wiggle your toes and fingers.  If they begin to lose feeling, are tingling or painful, come inside and warm up.

The first sign of frostbite is reddening of the skin.  It then turns blotchy white, gray, or yellow. Finally, the skin becomes completely white and sometimes blisters.  The body part may feel very cold or numb.  In advanced stages of frostbite, there is no feeling at all in the exposed skin. Frostbite victims also suffer from hypothermia!

Treating Frostbite

Bring the victim inside to a warm place as soon as you can.  Keep the victim as warm and dry as possible.  Warm the frozen body part by putting it in warm (not hot) water, damp cloths, or blankets. Check the water or cloth frequently to make sure it stays warm.  Do not rub or move the frozen part.

Place the frostbitten part lower than the head, to increase blood flow.  Do not let the person sit close to a stove, heater, or fireif the frozen part gets too hot, the damage can be worse.  Do not give the victim alcohol.

Once the area is thawed, the victim should gently exercise the area.  This will bring blood back into the injured part.  (If the victim will have to go back into the cold again, do not thaw the frost-bitten area, as it will freeze again and cause more damage.)  Get medical attention as soon as possible.

Wet Or Icy Driving

Every time you step into a vehicle, you face a potential driving hazard, but more so when the roads are wet or icy.  Safety starts before you leave the drive-way or parking lot.  You should have a regular maintenance program to check fluid levels (such as anti-freeze) and make sure your tires have enough tread for good traction.  Keep extra windshield washer fluid with you in the trunk.  Other items you need to consider stowing in the car include a small broom for cleaning off snow, an ice-scraper, a small folding shovel, sand or cat litter, and a rug or traction mat.  Some other actions to take to make your trip a safe one include:

Wintertime Darkness

No matter how good your eyes are your night vision is not going to be as sharp as your day vision. There are steps you can take to maximize the safety of your nighttime or winter darkness driving excursions.

Cold Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can impair your ability to concentrate, make decisions, drive a vehicle, or operate machinery.  At the very least, OTC drugs tend to slow your reflexes.  All of these reactions translate into safety hazards.

In addition to heeding the general word of caution about OTC medication use, you should be aware of the two instances that can make a drug's negative effects more pronounced:

Try a new OTC medication over the weekend when your efficiency and workplace safety won't be compromised.

Read the labels to educate yourself about dosages and cautions when taking the various medications.

Avoid multi-ingredient products. Take a decongestant to relieve a stuffy nose.  Take an antihistamine to dry up a runny nose.

Have A Safe Holiday

Winter brings the long holiday season, and there are many safety issues that pertain to this time of year.  Garlands, greens, trees, and mistletoe set the stage for holiday festivities.  However, the use of fresh greenery should be prohibited for use in educational institutions because of the increased fire dangers.  Check the decorations policy on campus or with safety personnel to ensure you are in compliance.

Look for artificial trees and greenery that have been tested and marked for fire resistance.  Buy lights that have been tested by an independent agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories.

Check all lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, loose connections, or dam-aged plugs.  Throw away any damaged light sets.

Don't overload electrical circuits or outlets.  For safety's sake, use no more than three standard size light sets on each outlet.  Don't run electrical cords under rugs or carpets.

For outdoor decorations, use only light sets that are specified for outdoor use.  Only use indoor lights indoors.  Turn off all lighted decorations when leaving the room unoccupied or leaving the office at night.

Holiday Blues

It is well known that some people get depressed at a time when others are relishing the joy of the season.  Most experts say that holiday depression is caused by the contrast between the way we think the season ought to be, and the way life really is.  For some, the holidays are marked by great stress.

The excitement and hectic pace of the holiday season can lead to fatigue, which in turn could lead to an accident.  There are several ways to unwind:

Many experts prescribe regular exercise to help reduce stress.  Studies show that a good work-out can elevate your mood for up to 26 hours.  A quick 10-minute walk could reduce stress for up to two hours.

The holidays bring with them a whole menu of new foods, which can affect your mood.  Sugar, for example, will provide a temporary lift in energy.  Shortly after, however, the high reverses and it is not unusual to feel very tired or depressed.  Heavy foods can have a similar result, in that they fill you up and may affect your attitude.

The holidays typically bring excessmore parties, more food, and more alcohol.  Another excess is moneyspending a lot of money on gifts can be stressful and depressing.  Moderation is the key to getting through the holidays.

Obviously, it's ideal to talk to friends, clergy, or mental health professionals when you are depressed.  Many institutions offer an employee assistance program.  Another resource is hot linesmost telephone directories offer information on help hot lines.

If you’re a supervisor, try to be aware of the mood of your employees.  Intervene in cases where your employees are stressed or depressed.  It's just a matter of good employee relations, and it can also avert possible safety violations and injury incidents.