The Woodward News

November 22, 2013

Take precautions to stay safe in colder weather

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Temperatures in the 50s greeted most everyone in the area on Thursday morning. By noon, though, it was 32 degrees and spitting mist with a promise of more to come.

According to the National Weather Service, "a cold front moving across the Plains will bring temperatures plummeting as much as 10-25 degrees below normal across much of the central and northern Plains on Thursday, as well as areas of heavy snow across parts of the Rockies and central Plains Thursday into Friday."

For some, that means wear a coat from the car into the building in which you work.

But for guys like OG&E lineman, Kevin Pettigrew it means bundle up for a long day or night of bitter temperatures, possibly perched 30 feet up in a bucket putting the power back on for someone.

Like Pettigrew, workers in the oilfield, agriculture, and road maintenance crews to name only a few, are generally still at work when the weather turns ugly.

That means it is important remind those workers to pay attention to how they feel and take the time to warm up and stay safe, said officials at Sheridan Production Company, LLC.

Based in Houston, this oil production company has employees at work in Northwest Oklahoma 365 days a year. But the company puts a premium on keeping their workers safe, especially in dangerous weather conditions, said Sheridan Administrative Manager for the Woodward Office, Amber Ashpaugh.

"When the weather gets bad, or freezes or there is a blizzard, they want all the pumpers to use the buddy system when going out to check wells," Ashpaugh said. "We remind them to put another pair of dry coveralls in their trucks and something to eat and drink if they get stranded."

Ashpaugh said other reminders include workers taking the time to get into the cab of their truck off and on throughout a specific project, even if it takes longer. This is to keep them from getting too cold and becoming a cold weather casualty.

She also said foremen for the company want pumpers to consider the risk during freezing temperatures before heading into a remote location where cell phones might not work.

According to the American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma, those are good suggestions and should be also considered by people who don't necessarily work in the cold but might simply have a drive to work that could expose them.

Winter weather related fatalities in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles outnumber deaths from lightning, tornadoes and flash floods combined since 1950, according to the Texas and Oklahoma Departments of Emergency Management.

Primarily those injuries are caused by vehicular accidents because year after year, people forget to slow down in consideration of bad weather, said Woodward Emergency Management Director, Matt Lehenbauer.

"Especially on days like this, we are not seeing a lot of ice yet, but on bridges and overpasses or elevated roadways, there will be some," he said.

Just last February, it took road crews hours in some cases to get to stranded motorists in the Woodward area, he said.

Lehenbauer said many of the exposure related injuries are because people who work in the cold all day begin to sweat and just keep on working, failing to understand that their core temperature is decreasing.

"Try to prevent perspiration," Lehenbauer said. "Instead of wearing just one sweatshirt and a heavy coat, wear lots of layers. I will wear a t-shirt, another short sleeved shirt, then a long sleeved t-shirt and another sweatshirt on top of that and then a coat."

Lehenbauer noted that in this way, he is able to take off enough clothing, one piece at a time to manage his temperature in such a way that he does not get  too hot or too cold.

Another common mistake is for people who work outside to skip meals to get done earlier or faster, Lehenbauer said.

"When you eat, your body heats up to digest that meal and it gives you much needed heat," he said. 'When you are skipping meals, you are not giving your body what it needs to produce heat."

Among other reminders, Lehenbauer urges people who work in the cold or who must drive somewhere when the weather is cold to plan ahead and include an emergency preparedness kit in their car or truck and check  your vehicle before you leave.

A kit should include:

1. A candle

2. a couple blankets

3. two or three bottles of water

4. A spare phone charger

5. A basic first aid kit

6. A couple of dry sets of gloves

7. Make sure you have a working jack

8. Check the air in your spare tire

9. Always keep your tank more than half full of fuel

"In 2009, we had one car where the people were stranded in it and had to survive there for nine hours," he said. "You can do a lot with just one little candle in a car to stay warm."

According to the American Red Cross, it is important to understand what it feels like when your body is beginning to show signs of cold stress. They include:

1. Numbness in extremities

2. Skin that appear waxy, is cold to the touch or is discolored, gray, white, yellow or blue.

3. Shivering

4. glassy stare

5. Apathy

6. Weakness

7. Impaired judgement

8. Sleepiness

9. Loss of consciousness

It is time to take a break from the cold when your extremities begin to feel numb, Lehenbauer said.