After January’s deep freeze, 30-degree weather doesn’t seem quite as chilly as it did prior to the Polar Vortex ascension. But, Philadelphia construction workers still need to be aware of the risk of hypothermia.
You may know that a healthy body temperature is 98.6 degrees. When you body is in a cold environment, it has to work harder to maintain this temperature. It does this by constricting blood vessels to keep your vital internal organs at a constant proper temperature. When that’s not enough to keep you warm, your body tries to warm you by making you shiver. Since shivering is a muscle activity, it generates heat just like exercise.
Sometimes the body’s defenses against cold simply aren’t enough. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees.
Initial Signs of Hypothermia
- Persistent shivering
- Bluish lips and fingers
- Loss of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Numbness in hands or feet
- Rapid heart rate
It is important that a worker showing the signs of hypothermia get out of the cold immediately. Call 911. Any wet clothing should be removed, and the worker should be wrapped in warm blankets. It’s okay to provide warm, non-alcoholic drinks. But, heat should not be applied to the extremities. This can drive cold blood towards the heart, lungs and brain and cause organ damage. Don’t let the victim go to sleep.
Signs of Moderate hypothermia
- Decreased mental alertness
- Glassy stare
- Confusion or irrational behavior
- Poor decision making
- Slowed heart rate
- Slowed breathing
Again, it is important to get the injured employee out of the cold. At this point, blood flow to the brain will be affected. The worker may not realize that he needs to warm up; he may resist assistance.
Signs of Severe Hypothermia
- Shivering stops
- Loss of consciousness
- Irregular or hard to find pulse
- No detectable breathing
Because heart beat and breathing are slowed down, a worker with severe hypothermia can appear to be dead. However, he is likely still alive. Care must be taken when warming the victim. Call 911 immediately! Bring the victim indoors and remove any wet clothing. Gradually warm the victim with blankets. Monitor breathing and administer artificial respiration if necessary.
Workers with mild hypothermia usually recover with no complications, but moderate or severe hypothermia can cause permanent damage to the heart, lungs, brain or other organs. There may also be permanent damage to the hands, feet, arms or legs.
When a Pennsylvania construction worker suffers from hypothermia, he has the right to request workers’ compensation for his injury. To learn more about Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation benefits, request your free copy of our book, Your Guide To PA Worker’s Compensation.
Know someone who works outdoors? Share this information. The best way to stop hypothermia is to be aware of the early warning signs.