Sunday, December 10, 2023

Tips to keep poultry industry workers warm during cold weather

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By Katie Keiger

Poultry Times staff

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The temperature outside might be 70 degrees F, but inside poultry plants, it is not uncommon to see employees dressed in winter jackets and gloves. This is because poultry is required to be sanitized in very cold temperatures, and stored in freezers before delivery. The USDA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have several tips on ensuring worker’s safety in these frigid environments.

What to wear

Heavy coats and jackets are obviously recommended for people to wear when trying to keep warm, but the USDA also advises clothes not to be too snug.

Loose-fitted clothes, preferably in at least three layers, will keep circulation from being cut off like tight clothes would. The friction that is caused by the loose clothes can also provide extra warmth.

Hands and feet are of the most concern when it comes to blood circulation. Mittens or gloves should be worn if possible, with room for fingers to move if necessary. The USDA also states that shoes should be water-resistant because damp clothes cause people to loose body heat.

Workers should try to cover as much skin as possible because chilly air can also cause a person to loose body heat and have dry skin. Wearing hats can be vital to prevent heat loss because a majority of warmth can be lost through the head, according to OSHA.

OSHA recommends the two inner layer of clothing to be wool, silk or synthetic, and the outer layer to be water proof and wind resistant that allows ventilation.

Cold stress prevention

If an environment is wet, cold or highly ventilated there is a risk for people to be harmed by cold stress. OSHA states that wind chill is especially dangerous because it can trick people into thinking it is not as cold as people feel it because of the effects it has on the body.

“When the air temperature is 40 degrees F, and the wind speed is 35 mph, the effect on the exposed skin is as if the air temperature is 28 degrees F,” OSHA said.

Other than wearing temperature appropriate clothing, employees should stay hydrated by drinking water and warm sweetened drinks such as a sports drink. However, caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, soda and hot chocolate should be avoided. To further preserve body temperature, foods that are high in calories, such as pasta, is recommended.

Employers should give workers breaks from cold areas and let them warm up in rooms that are warm and dry. OSHA also states that work that must be done in cold temperatures should be scheduled for the warmest part of the day, not at night or before dawn when temperatures naturally drop.

Employers should provide proper training for employees to understand their jobs and how to work in below freezing environments. A buddy system should also be implemented for workers to be able to recognize symptoms of cold stress injuries and get assistance before problems become worse.

Knowing the signs

Hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot, also known as immersion, are common health concerns in cold weather conditions.

Workers should be able to identify the signs and be on alert for their coworkers to insure people do not get seriously injured.

Frostbite tends to occur in hands or feet because those body parts receive typically receive the least amount of blood circulation in general. However, any skin that is exposed to the cold is vulnerable to this type of injury.

OSHA states that reddened patches of skin that turns grey or white is the most obvious sign of frostbite, but there are earlier stages. Feeling numb or hardened areas of skin is an early symptom of frostbite. In the most severe cases, blistering also occurs.

If a worker has frostbite, bring the person in a warm environment but do not rub the damaged area or apply water. OSHA suggests places loose clothing over the injured skin and protect the area from contact. The person should be given warm drinks if alert and able to swallow.

Trench foot or immersion can occur even in temperature as high as 60 degrees F if the feet are exposed to moisture in cold temperature.

Like frostbite, trench foot symptoms are redness of skin, swelling, numbness and blisters. Medical assistance is needed immediately to prevent further injury. All clothing should be removed from the foot (boots and socks) and the foot should be dried as soon as possible.

Hypothermia is possibly the most dangerous illness because it can be difficult to detect. A person who is stomping or excessively shivering may be experiencing mild hypothermia. More severe symptoms are if a person suddenly stops shivering and states that they do not feel cold anymore. A worker that suddenly appears clumsy and uncoordinated or easily confused is also a sign. Dilated pupils, slowed breathing and pulse, fainting, and unable to walk or stand are symptoms of severe hypothermia.

If hypothermia is suspected, action must be taken immediately as the illness could turn life threatening. According to OSHA, if a person with hypothermia is awake, they should be quickly moved to a warm, dry room and given warm, sweet drinks. Warm water bottles or hot packs should be placed in the victim’s armpits, sides of chest and groin. Call 911 immediately.

If the victim is not breathing or has no pulse, treat them the same as an awake person except do not try to give them fluids. Check their vital signs every 60 seconds and, if trained, begin administering rescue breaths until medical assistance arrives.

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