The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that around 6,000 Americans lose their lives each year as a result of cold weather. Cold-related injuries and illnesses can afflict a person who has been chilled by low temperatures, brisk winds or wet clothing. Refresh yourself on the first-aid measures to take when  someone shows signs of serious cold-related illness.

Frostbite

When frostbite occurs, there is freezing in the deep layers of the skin and tissue. The skin becomes pale, waxy white, hard and numb. This condition usually affects the fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears and nose. If you suspect that a friend or co-worker has frostbite, you should:

  • Move the person to a warm, dry area and do not leave him or her alone.
  • Remove any wet or tight clothing that may cut off blood flow to the affected area.
  • DO NOT rub the affected skin, as this can cause damage to the skin and tissue.
  • Gently place the affected area in a warm (not hot) water bath. DO NOT pour water directly on the skin.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 95° F, causing fatigue, drowsiness, uncontrolled shivering, bluish skin, slurred speech, clumsy movements, irritability, and irrational or confused behavior. If you suspect someone is suffering from hypothermia:

  • Move the person to a warm, dry area and do not leave him or her alone.
  • Replace wet clothing with warm, dry clothing or blankets.
  • Have the person drink warm, sweet drinks. DO NOT administer drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
  • Have the person move his or her arms and legs to create muscle heat.

Hypothermia and frostbite are serious conditions. Call for medical assistance if you suspect a co-worker is suffering from either illness. Co-workers who are older or have a predisposed health condition such as heart disease, diabetes or hypertension have an increased risk of falling victim to cold-related illnesses.

Real-Life Story

Before beginning work one morning, an agricultural worker in northern Michigan realized his work boots were in pretty rough shape. He also forgot to check the weather for the day, which predicted a few inches of snowfall, and didn’t put on insulated socks.
Around midday he started to experience a strange tingling and itching in his feet and toes. Thinking it was just a symptom of his feet falling asleep because he had been standing on them for longer than usual that day, he let the issue slide until his feet became almost completely numb.
He mentioned the concern to his co-worker, who told his supervisor. His supervisor moved him inside immediately. Another employee helped him soak his feet in a lukewarm water bath for 45 minutes. His supervisor instructed him to throw out his old boots and buy a new, more insulated pair.
The worker’s supervisor realized the worker was experiencing the early signs of frostbite and removed him from the cold weather conditions before he was seriously injured.