Fort McCoy News Jan. 26, 2018

January safety council focuses on cold-weather risks

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With fresh snow on the ground and an icy bite in the air, cold-weather safety was the timely topic at Fort McCoy's Safety and Occupational Health Advisory Council on Jan. 16.

"All cold-weather injuries are preventable," Safety Specialist Don Vender said. Everyone is responsible for preventing cold-weather injuries.

The most common cold-weather injuries are hypothermia, frostbite, chilblains, and trench/immersion foot.
Hypothermia is when the core body temperature falls below 95 degrees. While hypothermia is mostly a concern in winter months, it's possible to get hypothermia in warmer weather, too.

Safety Specialist Don Vender shows Fort McCoy employees examples of inert explosives during the quarterly Safety and Occupational Health Advisory Council on Jan. 16.
Safety Specialist Don Vender shows Fort McCoy employees examples of
inert explosives during the quarterly Safety and Occupational Health
Advisory Council on Jan. 16.

"You can get hypothermia when it's 60 degrees out if you're in cold water for a long period of time," Vender said.

Initial symptoms are shivering, dizziness, drowsiness, change in behavior, confusion, slowed speech, and stumbling. In later stages, victims stop shivering, wish to lie down and sleep, have slowed heartbeats and breathing rates, and fall unconscious.

Hypothermia is fatal without medical attention. If someone is showing symptoms, remove him or her from the cold, remove wet clothing, help them warm up with warm, sweet liquids; warm blankets or sleeping bags; and/or body contact. Get the person medical attention.

Frostbite is when skin freezes. It can affect only the surface skin or deeper flesh. The most likely areas to be affected are hands, feet, ears, chin, nose, and groin area. Symptoms include initial redness or grayness in skin and a tingling sensation, followed by turning numb, yellowish, waxy, or gray and feeling cold, stiff, or woody. Like with hypothermia, remove the victim from the cold and rewarm affected area. Do not massage the skin, and seek medical treatment.

Chilblains and trench/immersion foot are both nonfreezing cold-weather injuries that develop in wet conditions. Chilblains start out looking pale or colorless, then become red, swollen, itchy, and tender upon rewarming. Blisters develop in severe cases. Chilblains develop more quickly than trench foot.

In trench foot, skin appears wet, soggy, white, and shriveled and can feel tingly, numb, then painful. The skin later becomes discolored and can be red, bluish or black. The feet grow cold and swell, and blisters or open sores may develop. If left untreated the flesh can die.

In both cases, prevent future exposure, dry skin, rewarm skin, and seek medical attention.

It's important to dress appropriately for the outdoor activity, Vender said. If you'll be sweating, wear less and have dry clothing available to change into, especially shoes and socks. It's also important to wear loose clothing, which allows air to circulate and keeps you drier.

Some of the risk factors increasing the odds of cold-weather injuries include alcohol and nicotine consumption, dehydration, exposure time, and previous injuries. Vender said it's important to keep a closer eye on people who meet any of these criteria.
The meeting also covered what to do when someone falls into icy water.

• Do not remove clothing (except for skis or other impediments).

• Try to get out the direction you came. Place your hands and arms on unbroken ice, then kick your feet up toward the surface like you're swimming. If available, use ice picks to help you drag yourself out of the water.

• Once out, lie on your back and then roll away from the hole. Do not attempt to crawl or stand until you are certain you are on solid ice or ground.

• Get to a warm, dry area as soon as possible to prevent hypothermia.

A video was shown demonstrating these steps, available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz3gy5XyaBo. The video also covers how to stay alive as long as possible if you can't get yourself out to maximize the chance of someone rescuing you.
Vender also covered unexploded ordnance, reminding people to leave anything suspicious alone, make a note of where it's at, and contact the Directorate of Emergency Services.

Garrison Commander Col. David J. Pinter Sr. stressed the importance of taking safety information back to units and organizations and sharing it with others.

"The one point I want to drive home is that you are all safety officers," Pinter said. "Each and every one of us in here has the opportunity to stop an accident before it happens.

For more information about cold-weather injuries and safety, call the Installation Safety Office at 608-388-0335.