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January 13, 2012


Precautions reduce risks of injuries for those outdoors in cold weather

By Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

People who work, train or exercise outdoors at Fort McCoy during the winter can accomplish their cold-weather missions and stay safe if they take the proper precautions to prepare for the elements.

Deb Heise-Clark, a Fort McCoy safety specialist with the Installation Safety Office (ISO), said most personnel know the basics of wearing clothing in layers, moving to a sheltered area to warm up when they’re cold and changing wet clothing, as necessary.

“What people often forget is to remain hydrated and drink a sufficient amount of non-caffeinated water or liquids even during cold weather,” Heise-Clark said. “Dehydration doesn’t happen only when it’s warm outdoors.”

According to “Knowledge,” the Army’s official safety magazine, the average adult loses 1.5 to two liters (approximately 1.6 - 2.11 quarts) of water each day when it’s cold. Being active in cold weather also can increase water loss through increased exertion by the kidneys, perspiration and evaporation from the lungs.

This can lead to inadequate blood flow to the extremities, which can contribute to an individual developing a cold-weather injury, such as frostbite or trench foot. Fluid requirements depend upon the level of physical work performed, the temperature and what Soldiers are wearing or carrying with them.

Anyone who is outdoors is advised to follow the “C-O-L-D” strategy. This is a key acronym used in cold-weather protection that stands for: Keep it CLEAN; Avoid OVERHEATING; Wear it LOOSE and in layers; and Keep it DRY.

Many personnel at Fort McCoy who spend a lot of time outdoors or provide customer service to people who work, train or exercise outdoors have developed their own special strategies to prevent cold-weather injuries.

Larry Levasseur, the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security (DPTMS) Range Safety Officer, said his office provides personnel training at Fort McCoy with a newsletter highlighting the precautions they can take to help prevent cold-weather injuries. Much of the information is adapted from the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, Levasseur said.

“The typical victim of a cold-weather injury is male, a specialist (E-4) or below, approximately 20 years old, from a warm climate, who has less than 18 months time in service,” Levasseur said. “The victim uses (or takes) tobacco, alcohol or medications and neglects proper foot care.”

Other susceptibility factors include previous cold-weather injuries, inadequate nutrition, ethnicity, acclimatization, health, physical stamina, exposure and inadequate training or poor clothing and equipment, he said. Soldiers who come from a warmer climate to conduct cold-weather training at Fort McCoy are more susceptible to cold-weather injuries than personnel from areas whose climate is similar to Fort McCoy’s if they don’t take proper precautions.

Don Lemerand of the DPTMS Range Branch said members of the organization who work outdoors in the cold should use warming areas as needed to help prevent frost-bite or other cold-weather injuries. DPTMS also furnishes employees with winter safety boots and winter gloves to keep warm when working outdoors.

“We provide them with ice (snow) grippers to wear to ensure they won’t slip and fall when they’re outside in the elements,” he said. “It helps ensure their clothing remains clean and dry and helps protect them from cold-weather injuries.”

Wearing clothing in layers also is important for personnel to keep warm and to avoid becoming overheated and sweating when working, training or exercising outdoors. The Fort McCoy ISO recommends three layers for maximum comfort.

The first layer should be a base layer. It’s closest to the skin and is designed to keep moisture away from the body so the wearer stays dry, warm and comfortable. Polypropylene, polyester and merino wool are good base-layer fabrics. Many military-issue items also are good. Soldiers and other personnel should avoid wearing cotton in the base layer because it holds/retains moisture against the skin.

The second layer, the insulating layer, traps warm air against the body. Light, bulky fabrics, such as wool, down, polyester fleece or synthetic pile fabrics that trap air are among the best materials for this layer. Military-issue items useful for this layer include the Fire Resistant Environmental Ensemble Mid-weight Layer and Extreme Weather Removable Liner, field jacket liner and Extended Cold Weather Clothing System Fleece.

The final layer, the shell, protects the body and the two inner layers from weather/environmental elements such as wind, rain, snow and dirt. Waterproof, breathable fabrics, including Gore-Tex, are among the materials most commonly used in shells.
The layering principles also apply to boots, gloves, headgear and sleeping systems.

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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