Temperatures in Illinois regularly fall into the single digits during the winter months, which places workers who spend a considerable amount of time outdoors vulnerable to hypothermia. This is a condition that develops when the body loses more warmth than it can generate, and it can be life-threatening if treatment is not received promptly. When hypothermia’s symptoms are spotted early, the condition can usually be remedied by removing wet and cold clothing, covering the patient in blankets and giving them hot beverages to drink and warm food to eat.
The signs of hypothermia
Hypothermia develops slowly, and workers outdoor may become incapacitated by it before they realize how perilous their situations are. The early symptoms of hypothermia are marked by fatigue, shivering, confusion and a loss of coordination, which are often dismissed as part and parcel of working outside in cold weather. If these symptoms are not recognized and treated, hypothermia becomes more serious. When this happens, breathing slows, pupils become dilated and exposed skin turns blue. At this point, the body has lost so much heat that hypothermia causes unconsciousness and ultimately death.
There are several things that employers and workers can do to reduce the risks of hypothermia. Workers should be given training about the hazards of extremely cold weather, and they should work in groups of two or more so that there is always at least one other person to watch out for symptoms. Other ways to avoid hypothermia and hypothermia-related workers’ compensation claims include:
- Wearing several layers of warm and waterproof clothing
- Taking regular breaks in a warm and dry environment
- Drinking plenty of hot fluids
- Covering up as much as possible to reduce the amount of skin exposed to the elements
- Stopping work when fatigue begins to set in
An avoidable tragedy
Hypothermia kills more than a thousand people each year in the United States, and almost all of these deaths are preventable. To avoid tragedy, both employers and workers should learn about the dangers of extreme cold and take the simple steps necessary to address them.