Workers in almost every industry, who work outdoors and are exposed to extremely cold environments, require thorough protection from hazardous winter elements. Working under industrial environment in extreme cold conditions can be quite challenging as one runs the risk of cold stress. Just like heat stress which causes harmful impacts on the human body in the summer, cold stress can lead to adverse health-related issues. Workers involved in mining, construction, landscape services, indoor food processing, oil and gas industries are more likely to be affected by exposure to extreme environmental conditions.
Working in hazardous industries requires garments that are not only Flame Resistant but also ensures protection against extreme cold weather surroundings like rain and snow. Adequate safety measures need to be adopted to prevent injuries from cold stress. Therefore, it is important that we understand what cold stress is- its causes and symptoms.
Extremely cold temperatures make the body work harder to maintain its normal temperature. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), cold stress takes place when the skin and the internal body temperature go down so much so that the body is unable to keep itself warm. As the cold weather draws away the heat from the body, its primary reaction is to slow down the blood circulation which leads to dangerous illnesses and can be fatal as well.
What comprises cold stress and its ill-impacts can be different across different countries. Wind speed, physical exhaustion, inadequate clothing, body heat production, medical conditions like diabetes and circulatory problems, and loss of body fluids or dehydration are some of the major reasons that can increase the risk of cold stress. Hence, freezing temperature together with any of these conditions can give rise to cold stress.
Cold Stress Hazards
Hypothermia occurs due to exposure to cold conditions for a prolonged period of time. The normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. It drops because the body starts losing heat at a much faster rate than it can produce. This affects the victim’s brain that compromises his mobility and ability to think clearly. In addition to awfully low temperatures, hypothermia can also occur if a person starts freezing from rain, sweat, or immersion in cold water.
Symptoms: shivering, fatigue, disorientation, loss of coordination, slowed speech, weak pulse, dilated pupils, blue skin, and loss of consciousness.
Frostbite is another cold stress illness. The tissue beneath the surface of the skin starts to freeze and most commonly affects the nose, cheeks, ears, chin, fingers, or toes that leads to the loss of feeling and color of the same. In severe cases, the blood vessels and muscle nerves may also freeze.
Symptoms: reddening of the skin, reduced blood flow to the affected areas, numbness, tingling sensation, aching, and bluish or pale skin.
Trench foot, or the immersion foot syndrome, occurs due to exposure to cold and wet conditions for a very long period of time. When the feet remains wet for a long time, it starts to lose heat much faster than when they are dry. The body, therefore, constricts blood vessels to stop its circulation to the feet. As a result, the skin tissue begins to die because of the loss of oxygen and nutrients and the buildup of toxic elements.
Symptoms: reddening of the skin, leg cramps, numbness, swelling of the feet and toes, blisters or ulcers, and bleeding under the skin.
Workers must be equipped with the right level of protection when working in extreme weather conditions. There are different standards that specify the requirements for protective PPE against foul weather conditions like snow and rain.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, employers have a duty to protect employees from recognized industrial dangers including cold stress hazards, that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm in the workplace.
Various technical standards have been introduced by the global authorities that could help define parameters and testings to ascertain use of the correct PPE for the protection of workers against cold conditions:
- EN 342:2017: This European Standard specifies requirements and test methods for the performance of clothing ensembles for protection against the effects of cold environments equal to or below −5°C. These effects comprise not only low air temperatures but also humidity and air velocity.
- EN 14058:2017 specifies the requirements and test methods to ascertain the features and performance of garments that protect the body against cold weather conditions at temperatures above -5⁰C.
- EN 343:2019 is a standard that protects against wet weather influences like precipitation, fog, and ground moisture. It outlines the standard for both the fabric and the garment construction.
Layer Fr Clothing: Dual Protection
Low temperature requires a high level of thermal insulation that can cause increased precipitation and as a result, lightweight and breathable fabrics are recommended for industrial applications. The layering of good fitted and lightweight FR garments cannot only help reduce the chances of injuries due to accidental flame but can also secure from any illness due to cold stress as it provides better insulation.
Additionally, multi-layered FR clothing is also available that have different layers together in a single garment. While the inner layer keeps the body dry, the middle layer is for insulation and the outer layer offers protection against flame. This will ensure the safety of the workers against hypothermia and other conditions of cold stress, when working outdoors in extreme cold conditions. It is also important to make sure that the overall garments do not restrict movement of workers during hazardous situations. Therefore, whether you choose a single or multiple layered garments, the most important thing is to keep the workers warm, dry, and safe.
Working in extreme temperatures can be quite risky. In addition to protective FR clothing, employers must provide adequate training to the workers regarding prevention and first aid treatment for cold stress-related illnesses.
Safety is non-negotiable and Tarasafe has relentlessly invested number of years in protecting workers across various hazardous industries around the globe. Tarasafe range of FR & weather protective clothing is ergonomically designed to offer the desired comfort and protection to the wearer in all weather conditions.
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