The winter chill is here and no one feels it more than those who have to go out early when the temperatures are at the lowest or those who work in icy cold conditions. Prolonged exposure to severely frigid conditions can cause cold stress, which includes fatigue and mild to severe health difficulties and other long-term health impacts.
Many adults and children have to brave the cold weather in winter, but this is usually only for short periods. However, there are those who work outside all day, even when in winter, as well as others who work in industries where temperatures have to be kept low or where there are freezers. This exposure can put them at a higher risk of incidents or injury, hypothermia, frostbite or trench foot. It can also cause respiratory conditions.
Wrapping up warmly
Taking care of oneself should be a priority when working in the mortuary, says Monwabisi Matshongwe, from eQonce in the Eastern Cape.
He is employed at Mgatiwa Funeral Services in Dimbaza as an administrator. Whether it is summer or spring, he is exposed to freezing temperatures at the mortuary.
“For the preservation of dead bodies, mortuaries use cold storage. Anyone operating in these conditions should thus wear warm clothing.”
In the morning, he rises early to take a warm bath. Then, puts on layers of warm clothes to prevent freezing and discomfort.
“Being cold makes getting through the day tough, especially your feet. I always dress in jackets, gloves, beanies, and socks.”
In addition to that, Matshongwe never misses an opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee. It keeps him warm, he says.
The key is to wear layers of clothing
Ntombekhaya Olwethu Zibi, a South African who recently emigrated to Germany, has learned a variety of tricks to keep warm.
She has been living in Germany since August 2022. When she arrived, it was warm, but as November approached, the temperature dropped, and the snow seemed never-ending.
“Before coming to this side, I was really worried about the weather conditions since I am not familiar with snow back home in South Africa.”
Zibi says she is adapting to the weather conditions by wearing layers of warm clothing.
She adds that they have a wine called glühwein (mulled wine) which people drink to also keep themselves warm.
“The winter season here is definitely not as kind as it is back at home (SA) hence one needs all sorts of clothes. From double socks to double pants and extra warm jackets to very warm gloves, a scarf and a beanie.”
A decrease in body temperature can be life-threatening
According to Dr Manduleli Bikitsha, a physician in Khayelitsha in Cape Town, it is important to maintain a balance between your external and internal body temperature.
When the body temperature drops below 37 degrees Celsius and goes below 35 degrees Celsius or even lower, it indicates that the person is experiencing hypothermia. Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat.
“It is important to prepare for winter by ensuring that you have heaters, warm clothing, nourishing foods, and some herbs readily available at home.”
Bikitsha notes that people may use imbawula (tin fire), but they must open windows while doing so and take it out before bedtime.
He recommends that people should maintain a balanced internal body temperature by focusing on immune-boosting foods and beverages. This can be done by consuming warm drinks like soups, tea, coffee, and herbs in warm water.
What are the negative effects of lower temperatures?
Bikitsha explains that when your body temperature falls, your heart, brain-related system, and other organs are unable to function properly.
If hypothermia is left untreated, it can result in complete failure of the heart and respiratory system and may even lead to death. Exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water are common causes of hypothermia, he adds.
“Protective clothing is crucial in work environments. It is crucial to acknowledge the strong connection between fluid levels, fluid loss, and heat loss. Dehydration can occur when the body loses moisture through different processes, resulting in a decrease in the overall circulating volume.”
Bikitsha adds that this decrease in fluid level makes the body more prone to hypothermia and other cold health conditions.
So, whatever you do this winter, keep warm and protect yourself.
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