The cold winter months are upon us, and with frost, snow, and heavy rain, there’s a lot to look out for in order to ensure the golf course maintenance crew’s safety. Cold temperatures combined with increased wind speed may lead to a variety of different conditions related to cold stress. Given that many of the necessary golf maintenance tasks take place outdoors and during the coldest time of the day, it’s important for you as a superintendent to understand what the risk factors are, how to protect your crew, and train them on safety measures and treatment for cold stress.

While employees on courses up north are at a higher risk to experience cold stress due to winter conditions, those in warmer states are also at risk. Extreme cold is measured differently across different areas of the country – regions that are accustomed to winter weather have a higher tolerance for extreme conditions than those regions that are not accustomed to these conditions. In other words your more experienced crew members will become acclimated to working in cold temperatures. It’s the new staff member or the one that has just moved up from Florida you have to worry about the most.

Types of Cold Stress

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Trench Foot/Immersion Foot

Cold Stress Prevention

Cold stress can be prevented, and the best way to do so is to avoid exposure to extreme conditions and monitor the crew’s physical condition during tasks in the cold.

As with anything in life, preparation is the key. You should train your employees before extreme weather conditions hit your course, and have a defined contingency plan for cold weather.

You also need to be aware of what is too cold, and how that standard may vary based on your location and factors related to the individual. Any time when temperature drops significantly and wind speeds increase, you need to evaluate the situation and take wind chill into consideration. Due to wind chill, the temperature your body feels could be much colder than the actual temperature out. If the temperature is 40F, for example, and wind speeds are at 35mph, the body would feel a temperature of 28F. If you use a weather app on your phone, pay attention to the “feels like” temperature.

Employer’s Responsibilities

OSHA does not have specific regulations for work done in the cold, but they do have a few standards that dictate the employer’s duty to protect workers from certain hazards, including cold stress.

According to OSHA, employers are responsible for:

  • Training employees to recognize conditions that put them at risk for cold stress
  • Providing training on prevention, symptoms, and treatment
  • Providing training on clothing selection for cold and windy environments
  • Monitoring the crew’s physical condition during tasks
  • Scheduling breaks in warm and dry areas often
  • Scheduling tasks during warmer parts of the day
  • Ensuring that the crew works in pairs
  • Providing sweet, warm beverages
  • Providing heating where possible

Keep in mind that the magnitude and risk associated with weather conditions depend on each individual person’s tolerance and that certain individuals may need more time to adjust to the weather. Each employee should be gradually introduced to the cold.

There are also a few risk factors associated with cold stress, including:

  • Wetness/Dampness
  • Improper Dressing
  • Predisposing conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes
  • Physical Condition

Proper dress includes layers of loose-fitting, insulated clothes, an insulated jacket, gloves, hat, and insulated, waterproof boots.

Aside from checking in with your crew and ensuring their preparedness for the weather conditions, it’s important that you monitor the weather. Will the temperature be dropping soon? Is a snow storm predicted? What will the temperature be during the first hours of the morning when your crew outside working?

Being aware of the weather will allow you to prepare for, and ensure that you plan work tasks and breaks around the weather and provide heating and any other resources such as warm beverages.

Detecting and Treating Cold Stress

Now let’s talk about the detection and treatment of cold stress. As we mentioned earlier, there are several different types of cold stress, each with unique symptoms and treatment.

Hypothermia

While hypothermia is often thought to happen only if submerged in water, it can also happen if a person is chilled due to rain or sweat. The mild symptoms of hypothermia include shivering and stomping feet in an attempt to get warm, but the person is still alert.

Moderate to severe symptoms of hypothermia gradually worsen as the person loses heat. As symptoms worsen, the person will stop shivering, may lose coordination, and become confused or disoriented. Their pulse and breathing may slow down, pupils become dilated, lose the ability to stand, and even become unconscious. These symptoms could lead to death if left untreated.

How to treat hypothermia:

  • If the person is experiencing extreme symptoms, call 911 immediately.
  • Move to a warm, dry area
  • Replace clothes with dry clothes and use any warm packs available to increase body temperature
  • Cover the person (except for the face) with warm blankets and a vapor barrier such as a tarp or plastic bag
  • If the person is conscious, give them warm, sweet drinks

If the victim is not breathing or has no pulse:

  • Call 911
  • Follow the guidelines above, but do not give the person any liquids to ingest
  • If the victim has not been breathing for 60 seconds, trained personnel may start rescue breaths for 3 minutes
  • Check again for breathing and pulse for 60 seconds
  • Continue rescue breathing if the victim still has no pulse
  • Check the victim’s physical condition periodically
  • Only do chest compressions with the direction of medical services or if the victim will not receive medical care within 3 hours

Frostbite

Frostbite is caused by freezing of the skin and its underlying tissues. It typically affects the areas of the body that lose heat the fastest, such as the feet and hands. The lower the temperature is, the faster the person will lose heat and experience frostbite. The symptoms of frostbite include reddened skin with gray or white patches, numbness that may feel firm or hard, or blisters. In severe cases of frostbite, amputation may be required.

How to treat frostbite:

  • Follow the same steps as those for hypothermia
  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or rub affected areas
  • Don’t apply snow or water
  • Do not break blisters
  • Loosely cover the area
  • Do not try to warm the area unless directed by medical personnel

Trench Foot/Immersion Foot

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, may happen if a person is exposed to cold or wet temperatures. While it is more common for this to happen in colder temperatures, it can happen at temperatures as high as 60 if feet are wet for a prolonged period. The reason behind this is that wet feet can lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet – in order to prevent heat loss due to wet feet, the body constricts the blood vessels and shuts down circulation. This causes the tissue to begin to die.

How to treat trench foot/immersion foot:

  • Remove wet shoes and socks
  • Dry the feet
  • Elevate affected area and avoid walking
  • Get medical attention

Preparation and training for cold weather are key. Don’t wait until the temperature drops to gather the supplies needed to keep your crew safe and warm or to train your crew on preparation and treatment for cold stress. In the face of an emergency, the difference between a trained employee and an untrained employee could mean the difference between life and death.

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