February 15, 2016
Farmers and ranchers complete tasks in all types of weather conditions. Extreme weather conditions put agricultural producers at risk for heat-related and cold-related illnesses and injuries. (Click here to view an article about heat-related illnesses) Individuals working in extremely cold or wet weather can experience such occupational health conditions as hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains.
The four environmental factors that cause cold-related illnesses are
The most dangerous factor in winter weather is wind chill, a measure of the rate at which skin exposed to the combined effects of wind and cold loses heat. When wind increases, the body loses heat at a faster rate, which causes body temperature to decrease.
Individuals generate body heat from food and through muscular activity and lose heat through convection, conduction, radiation, and sweating. In general, the processes of generating and losing body heat are balanced, resulting in a constant body temperature. When a person’s body temperature drops below the normal temperature of 98.6°F, he or she may experience blood vessel constriction and decreased peripheral blood flow, putting the person at risk for adverse cold-related conditions.
Hypothermia occurs when a person’s body is unable to produce heat and has used all its stored energy or is losing body heat faster than it can be produced. As a result, a person’s body temperature decreases. When a person’s body temperature drops below 95°F degrees, the heart, nervous system, and other organs can be adversely affected. The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold weather and immersion in cold water.
Frostbite occurs when skin tissue freezes and loses water, leading to the potential for cell damage. Skin can freeze at temperatures of 30°F and below, and wind chill can also cause frostbite. Fingers, toes, cheeks, nose, and ears are the areas of the body most typically affected by frostbite. Frostbitten skin may look white or grayish yellow and may feel cold, hard, and possibly waxy to the touch.
Trench foot occurs when a person's feet have prolonged exposure to cold (60°F or less) and wet conditions. This condition is similar to frostbite but is typically less severe.
Chilblains are painful inflammations in small blood vessels in the skin that result from exposure to cold temperatures. The areas most commonly subject to chilblains include the toes, fingers, ears, and nose.
There are several actions you can take to maintain a normal body temperature in cold and/or wet weather.
If you are a farm or ranch manager, take the following precautions to keep your workers safe in cold and/or wet weather:
For more information about injuries in cold weather, click here to watch a webinar by the National AgrAbility Project titled Cold Work Injuries in Agriculture - Strategies for Prevention and Rehabilitation.
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University – firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri – FunkenbuschK@missouri.edu
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University – email@example.com
Ron Odell, Cactus Feeders – firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center - email@example.com
Use the following format to cite this article: Cold-related conditions and agriculture.(2012). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice.Retrieved from http://www.extension.org/pages/66813/cold-related-conditions-and-agriculture.
Chilblains.(2010) Mayo Clinic.Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chilblains/home/ovc-20165478.
Frostbite: First aid. (2011) Mayo Clinic.Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-frostbite/FA00023.
Guide to preventing heat stress and cold stress. (2011) North Carolina Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Division.Retrieved from http://www.nclabor.com/osha/etta/indguide/ig35.pdf.
Hypothermia.(2011) Mayo Clinic.Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypothermia/DS00333.
Jepsen, S., McGuire, K., & Poland, D. (2011) Injury Prevention: Types of Cold Stress.The Ohio State University Extension.Retrieved from http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/AEX-981.13.
Preventing cold-related illnesses in agricultural workers.(2011) Wyoming AgrAbility.Retrieved from http://www.uwyo.edu/agrability/fact_sheets/preventing_cold.pdf.
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