As winter approaches we’re faced with the threat of cold and snowy conditions in some parts of the UK. These have the potential to play havoc with organisations’ productivity, not only because of people’s difficulties actually getting to work and working effectively once they get there, but also because of the negative effect that the cold can have on certain health conditions. For example, cold weather can put extra strain on the cardiovascular system, which can be problematic for people with heart conditions, and it can aggravate the effects of asthma. Another condition which is particularly susceptible to the cold is Raynaud’s syndrome.
Raynaud’s is a common condition that can affect the blood supply and nervous system to certain parts of the body, but more commonly the fingers and toes. The symptoms significantly increase in cold weather when the blood vessels go into a temporary spasm which blocks the flow of blood. This causes the affected area to change colour to white, then blue and then finally red as the blood flow returns. Sufferers usually experience pain, numbness and pins and needles in the affected body parts. Symptoms can last from a few minutes to several hours.
There are two types of Raynaud’s:
- Primary Raynaud’s develops by itself (i.e. it doesn’t develop in connection with another health condition) and it affects more women than men.
- Secondary Raynaud’s develops because of certain underlying conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and lupus) and potentially external factors (e.g. working conditions).
Various hazards within the workplace can cause secondary Raynaud’s including:
- exposure to vibration from power tools, which can cause hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVs) of which Raynaud’s is one complication;
- frostbite injury (e.g. in agricultural and fishery workers, and plant and machine operators).
It is important for employers to provide education and training for employees who might be at risk of developing Raynaud’s, as well as the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and health surveillance, where necessary. Although Raynaud’s syndrome is not life-threatening, severe cases may cause disability, permanent impairment of blood circulation in the fingers, breakdown of the skin and gangrene, and may force workers to leave their jobs or, at the very least, change their work habits in order to avoid future attacks.
For advice on supporting employees who suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome, or for advice on how to prevent the condition developing in susceptible employees in the first place, call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 or access the resources on the Fit for Work website.