LABOplus - Cryogenic Protection - Safety at work Information

Why penguins are not cold

Or: How to protect against cold damages?

One could shiver only at the sight of it: Penguins are standing in biting cold on the ice for hours and cackle cheerfully. Why are they not cold, whereas man would have frozen to death long ago at such temperatures? The nature´s prescription is simple: Take a very tight plumage, put the feather ends one on top of the other and cloth the body with a big layer of fat. This protects against cold; in addition, it warms you up, too. In this regard, man is not blessed by nature that way. Instead the plumage and the layer of fat, man only got the right clothing against cold.

One speaks of a hypothermia if the body temperature falls below 36 degrees centigrade. This occurs when the body´s heat loss is bigger than its warm production over a longer period of time. This often happens in cold environments, for example in the mountains, due to falling in cold water or while diving. Then the danger insists that the oxygen supply of the organs comes succumbing. And from a body temperature of less than 30 degrees centigrade threaten even apnea and circulatory arrest! Besides, ambient temperatures of less than ten degrees centigrade are already dangerous. Wet or unsuitable cloths, rain, fog and strong wind accelerate the hypothermia of the body as well as the consumption of alcohol and drugs, physical strain, a bad state of health and akinetic behavior. A shock, e.g., after an accident, has an additional stronger effect. In general, elderly people and infants cool down much more quickly than other people.

Shiver against cold

Stay active, in order to keep warm for a long period of time at low temperatures. The body tries to produce more heat by shivering. But it cannot prevent the body temperature from falling, permanently. External signs for this are chilly and pale to gray-bluish skin and lips. When the physical energy reserves are spent, exhaustion arises, shuddering stops and joints and muscles are getting stiff. The consciousness blurs, apathy, increasing tiredness right up to an impregnable need for sleep come up. Respiration and pulse are getting low and irregularly. There is a risk of death due to the threatening failure of the vital functions.

Frostbites already from six degrees centigrade

Above all, fingers, toes, nose, ears and cheeks are getting. This means local harm of tissue, caused by insufficient blood flow lasting for a longer period of time. Temperatures of six degrees centigrade and below, combined with high humidity or chilly wind, can lead to frost nips. Too tight-fitting cloths and small shoes accelerate this process.

Initially, the affected parts of the skin turn bluish red, are smooth and tender; i.e. sense of feeling is weaker. Redness, itching, prickling and pain occur while warming. If such warn signals appear, act immediately in order to protect skin against further injuries, which can lead to amputation of the affected part of the body in case of major and lasting harm of tissue. It is dangerous if blisters and swellings evolve and skin becomes off-white, hard and insensitive.

Do not forget a cap, scarf or gloves!

People can avoid frostbites and hypothermia by wearing the right clothing; i.e. providing protection from the cold, wind and wet conditions keeping dry and keeping body warmth.

Clothing should not be too tight, water-resistant and wind-proof, but breathable at the same time. Wearing several items of clothing makes sense. Caps, scarves and gloves protect the exposed body parts against cold. Movement keeps warm, too. Absolute off-limits are alcohol and drugs, as well as physical excessive demand.

(published in ASB Magazin, issue april 2002, approved by Angelika König)

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