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January 11, 2013


Take action to avoid cold-weather injuries during winter season

By Geneve Mankel, Public Affairs Staff

Whether working, training, or playing, be sure to take appropriate measures to mitigate risks associated with cold weather, including injuries to exposed skin.

According to the Army’s Risk Management Guide for Cold Casualties, cold weather is defined as temperatures that are 40 degrees and lower. In the Fort McCoy area temperatures in January average 26-degree highs and 6-degree lows, and 32-degree highs and 11-degree lows in February, according to weather.com.

In cold weather exposed skin can lead to abnormal dryness, chapping especially on the face and lips, and hand dermatitis (eczema), said Deb Heise-Clark, a Fort McCoy safety specialist with the Installation Safety Office (ISO).

These conditions can cause discomfort, pain, and a decrease in motor functions.

“If someone is working outside on a weapon or piece of equipment a cold-weather injury can affect the dexterity of their hands, and they may not be able to complete the task properly,” Heise-Clark said.

Exposed skin also is more likely to develop frostbite, she said. “There isn’t a particular trend in cold-weather injuries at Fort McCoy,” Heise-Clark said, “but those that occur in the extremities (such as frostbite and chilblain) are most common.”

According to the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, frostbite accounts for the largest number of cold-weather-related injuries to Soldiers each year, approximately 130 cases of frostbite per year have been reported in the Army for each of the past five years.

People can avoid cold-weather injuries associated with exposed skin by wearing the proper protection. Personnel who are outdoors should wear gloves with inserts, and change any wet articles of clothing as soon as possible. Wet skin, which is common around the nose and mouth, should also be avoided. Feet, face, and ears should be frequently checked for signs of frostbite, Heise-Clark said.

Heise-Clark also advised that sunglasses or eye protection be worn.

“Sunglasses aren’t just for summer, they protect eyes from snow blindness and glare in the winter,” she said.

Another risk not only reserved for summer is dehydration. “So many times the only time we think about hydrating is in the summer, but it doesn’t take much to dehydrate in the winter, either,” Heise-Clark said.

The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center reported 235 cold-weather injuries among active and Reserve Soldiers during the 2011-12 cold weather season. The injuries included 114 frostbite and 30 hypothermia cases.

Dressing with the “C-O-L-D” strategy — Keep it CLEAN; Avoid OVERHEATING; Wear it LOOSE and in layers; and Keep it DRY — in mind will help personnel avoid cold weather injuries when outdoors. However, other risk factors also should be taken into consideration.

Heise-Clark said older adults and those with medical conditions are more affected by cold weather and more susceptible to injuries.

Certain conditions and medications can hinder the body’s ability to remain warm, such as thyroid conditions, circulatory ailments including high blood pressure, sedentary lifestyles, over-the-counter and prescription medicines, drugs and alcohol.

Information about cold-weather safety topics is available at the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center website at https://safety.army.mil. For more information about cold-weather safety at Fort McCoy, call the ISO at 608-388-3403.

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