Fort McCoy News Jan. 22, 2016

Take measures to curb cold-weather injuries

BY DAVID SAN MIGUEL
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center

With winter's lower temperatures, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) is advising Army personnel to anticipate and mitigate their risks of cold-weather injury, whether they're deployed, participating in field-training exercises, or enjoying recreational time off with Family and friends.

It's a tall order, and one that might extend beyond the individual's purview.

The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC) reports cold-weather injuries largely are a result of Soldiers being exposed to cold and wet environments while unable to be physically active, find warm shelter, or change wet or damp clothing because of training or mission requirements.

Cold-weather injuries

In an October 2014 medical-surveillance report published by the AFHSC, this operational environment resulted in 719 cold-weather injuries among active and reserve-component service members from July 2013 through June 2014, the highest in the past five cold seasons (2009-2014). The Army accounted for 62 percent, or 446, of those injuries.

Despite these findings, individuals can take preventive measures to mitigate their risk for cold-weather injury. The USACRC website lists pre-mission planning, knowing the weather forecast, and application of the risk-management process as integral to prevention.

Leaders at all levels should implement training on appropriate cold-weather gear and ensure their Soldiers receive adequate food, water and rest. Soldiers should use the buddy system to monitor health and performance and report to the unit medic or medical officer any signs or symptoms of injury. They should also refrain from alcohol and tobacco use during cold weather.

Some prevalent cold-weather injuries include frostbite, hypothermia, chilblain, and immersion (trench) foot. Frostbite accounts for the largest number of cold-weather injuries each year and occurs when the ambient temperature drops below 28-30 degrees Fahrenheit. It most commonly affects exposed extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, hands, and feet due to reduced skin blood flow.

Hypothermia, the most serious cold-weather injury, occurs when body temperature drops below 95 F. It can occur suddenly, including during partial or total immersion in cold water, or over hours or days, such as during extended operations or survival situations. Immediate medical attention is necessary for any Soldier showing signs of hypothermia.

Safety Specialist Tim Cumberworth of the Installation Safety Office (ISO) at Fort McCoy said many injuries in the winter also can result from slips, trips, and falls on icy surfaces.

"Walking surfaces during winter can be unpredictable," Cumberworth said. "You have to manage your risk and be as prepared as you can be when encountering all the challenges winter throws at us."

Cumberworth recommended some of the following tips, provided by the National Safety Council, to help prevent slips, trips, and falls during the winter months.

• Wear appropriate shoes for the task at hand.

• When getting out of a vehicle, create points of contact by holding on to the door, roof or assist handle.

• In inclement weather, wipe shoes well on rugs when entering buildings to prevent tracking in water, snow, and salt.

• Avoid distracted walking and remain alert for any surface changes (i.e. tile to carpet or heightened sidewalk blocks).

• Six of 10 falls happen at home — adding handrails, maintaining good housekeeping, and cleaning spills will help minimize risk.

For more information on the prevention of cold-weather injury, visit https://safety.army.mil, or call the Installation Safety Office at 608-388-3403.