Numb hands and leg cramps caused by wind chills of 10 degrees left a tower technician unable to extract himself from the top of a 180-foot tower, Jan. 23, in Gaithersburg, Md. Fearing hypothermia, Isaac Dupree, called 911 and co-worker Rob Bonsall climbed up to rescue him.
In a dramatic rescue caught on video from NewsChannel 8’s helicopter, Bonsall was seen straddling Dupree’s body as he slowly painstakingly lowered him to the ground, where the stricken climber was taken to hospital and treated for hypothermia and dehydration.
Todd Schlekeway, executive director, National Association of Tower Erectors, noted that this is the third reported situation in two months where cold weather threatened the safety of a tower climber. On Dec. 20, two technicians conducting maintenance on a 300-foot cell tower had to be rescued on a sub-freezing day in Plymouth, Minn. Another worker had to be treated for hypothermia after getting stuck on a tower in northeast Kansas late in January.
NATE published an article in the December 2012 issue of Tower Times on preventing and treating cold weather injuries that cited OSHA.
“Serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur when the body is unable to warm itself and permanent tissue damage and death may result,” according to OSHA. “Hypothermia can occur even when land temperatures are above freezing or water temperatures are below 98.6 degrees. Cold-related illnesses can slowly overcome a person who has been chilled by low temperatures, brisk winds or wet clothing.”
OSHA said the key to protecting workers is for the site foreman to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may lead to cold-induced illnesses and injuries. The workforce should be trained on how to avoid cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
“Take frequent short breaks in warm, dry shelters to allow the body to warm up; perform work during the warmest part of the day; avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm; use the buddy system (work in pairs); and drink warm, sweet liquids,” according to OSHA.
Worker should also learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries and what to do to help their colleagues, according to OSHA. The symptoms of hypothermia include fatigue or drowsiness, uncontrolled shivering, cool bluish skin, slurred speech, clumsy movements, and irritable, irrational or confused behavior. After calling for emergency help, the person should be moved to a warm, dry area.
“Don’t leave the person alone. Remove any wet clothing and replace with warm, dry clothing or wrap the person in blankets,” according to OSHA. “Have the person move their arms and legs to create muscle heat. If they are unable to do this, place warm bottles or hot packs in the arm pits, groin, neck, and head areas. DO NOT rub the person’s body or place them in warm water bath. This may stop their heart.”