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Safety Articles

Article # 8350

Preventing Hypothermia - Stay Dry, Stay Alive

Whether you work in a freezer or outdoors, hypothermia is a major safety concern. When working in cold, wet weather or damp freezers, heat can be conducted away from the body quickly - especially if the body is unprotected.

According to the 1995 Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University, it is important to recognize the strong connection between fluid levels, fluid loss, and heat loss. As body moisture is lost through the various evaporative processes, the overall circulation volume is reduced, which can lead to dehydration. This decrease in fluid level makes the body more susceptible to hypothermia and other cold injuries.

If someone is exposed to the elements for a prolonged period, they may begin showing signs of hypothermia, such as changes in motor coordination and levels of consciousness.

"To prevent hypothermia at our plants, we provide our material handling workers with insulated work boots, hat liners and driving gloves," says Stan Freeman, safety, medical, and security manager at a specialty alloy manufacturer. "If someone shows signs of hypothermia, we have to set procedure that we follow, which was developed by our medical department. This procedure is reviewed at one of our monthly safety trainings each year."

One of the most important procedures to follow, if hypothermia is suspected, is re-warming the victim. The basic principles of re-warming a hypothermic victim are to conserve the heat he has and replace the body fuel he has burned up to generate that heat. If a person is shivering, he has the ability to re-warm himself at a rate of two degrees (Celsius) per hour. However, be aware that a condition called "afterdrop" might occur during re-warming. This is caused by peripheral vessels in the arms and legs dilating if they are re-warmed. This dilation sends very cold, stagnant blood from the periphery to the core, further decreasing core temperature, which can lead to death. In addition, this blood is also very acetic, which may lead to cardiac arrhythmia and death. Afterdrop can be best avoided by not re-warming the periphery. Therefore, re-warm the core only by wrapping the victim's torso in a blanket. Do not expose a severely hypothermic victim to the extremes of heat.

When a person is in severe hypothermia, he may demonstrate all the accepted clinical signs of death. But he still may be alive in a "metabolic icebox" and can be revived. Your job, as a rescuer, is to re-warm the person and do CPR if necessary.