How to Avoid Hypothermia When Working at Height
Hypothermia is a phenomenon that can happen to anyone. Often, falling into a body of water is the cause, but many people do not realize that hypothermia is also a risk on dry land.
Possible Causes of Hypothermia
Especially when spending long amounts of time outside in cold weather, people must take precautions to avoid hypothermia and the risks associated with it. When working at height outside, the risk of hypothermia is higher because the air temperature drops the higher someone is lifted. With dry air, the decrease is approximately 1 degree per 100 meters, which may not seem much, but can make a significant difference in hypothermia risk. This risk further increases when the air is not dry and there is mist or rain.
Without noticing, every person constantly loses and creates heat. When the heat loss is greater than the heat production, a person’s body temperature will drop. Especially when the weather is windy or rainy, body cooling will occur even faster.
Identifying Signs and Risks of Hypothermia
The first stage of hypothermia is goosebumps. In the second stage, a person will begin to shiver and become stiff. In the next stage, a person will become drowsy and slow, often affecting performance and fine motor skills. A person experiencing this stage of hypothermia will have decreased coordination and judgement. Speech can become confused, giving the impression that the person is drunk when in fact, their body is beginning to shut down due to its low temperature. Eventually, muscles can stiffen so there is hardly any strength left in the arms and legs. Below the 32 degrees celsius, unconsciousness will occur and around 28 degrees celsius, the extremely low body temperature causes spontaneous cardiac arrest.
Hypothermia can be prevented by choosing the right clothing and equipment, especially when working at height. Workers should wear sufficiently warm clothing such as thermal underwear, fleece interlayer, and a water/windproof but breathable outer layer or a heat overall (winter overall). It is also important to protect the head well, since it has a relatively large surface and therefore a lot of heat is lost through it. Therefore, wearing a warm hat is a good idea.
Besides clothing choices, making sure that there are measures in place if an emergency arises is necessary. Provide personal emergency communication methods such as a mobile phone and ensure that there are colleagues in the area who know that someone is working at heights. Make sure that operators wear safety harnesses so that they cannot fall out of the platform if they lose consciousness. For more safety tips, read our blog 'Winter Safety Tips'.