What to do when it’s c-c-cold

Tread carefully in winter conditions.

For many people, working or playing in cold weather can be a positive experience. You may feel invigorated by the bracing air and like you do your work with more physical energy than usual. But when you work or play outdoors or in unheated structures during the winter months, you are at risk for serious health problems, including trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In extreme cases, exposure can lead to death.

Some of the danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior.

Reduced traction is the fallout from winter weather that has the greatest impact on Fermilab’s accident rates. Although we haven’t had many serious winter injuries thus far, and despite the laboratory’s aggressive snow and ice removal program, a day with falling snow could mean one or two people showing up in the medical office with injuries caused from slipping. Most injuries are minor, but fractures and dislocations sometimes occur. Let’s stay safe and healthy by keeping these safety precautions in mind during the winter season:

  • Use footwear that provides warmth, insulation and traction for snow, slush and ice.
  • Wear proper clothing, including layers that can be adjusted to changing winter conditions.
  • Eat regularly when out in the cold to maintain energy.
  • Analyze the surface before you start out.
  • If you must walk on ice, take short steps or shuffle your feet. Bend slightly and walk flat-footed with your center of gravity over your feet (see this two-minute video on snow safety).
  • Avoid unshoveled or ice-covered areas (walk through buildings when possible).
  • Take short breaks in a warm, dry shelter to allow yourself to warm up.
  • Try to schedule outside work or play activities for the warmest part of the day.
  • Try to keep moving while in the cold. This keeps the blood circulating.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and try to avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate). Avoid alcohol.
  • If you think you are experiencing symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite, get to a shelter right away and seek medical help.

Many building managers actively help with snow removal efforts in their areas, so if you see icy or snowy patches that need treatment here at Fermilab, please contact your building manager or Roads and Grounds at x3303.

Working or playing in cold weather can be a positive experience if you dress warmly and take precautions to protect yourself.

J.B. Dawson, ESH&Q communication