Since many youth activities revolve around being outdoors, every youth leader should be familiar with the risks of heat and cold exposure. Follow these guides to help keep youth safe on any outdoor activity.
Churches need to develop cold-weather policies that address concerns related to exposure to cold weather for students, church members, and staff. Advance planning is needed concerning outdoor activities, as well as the use of vehicles.
Church and youth leaders need to remain alert to three potential health risks that surface during cold weather: 1) overexertion, 2) frostbite, and 3) hypothermia.
Overexertion can occur in many ways. A common cause for this in the winter is shoveling snow. Breathing cold air causes some blood vessels to constrict. At the same time, the loss of body heat, combined with the strenuous physical activity, causes the heart to work harder as it must pump blood through more narrow arteries.
Warning signs of overexertion include shortness of breath, chest pain, or tightness in the chest. If these occur, the person should immediately stop and seek help.
If your youth are considering a service project or anything requiring exertion in cold weather, be aware of the risks of overexertion.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
Frostbite and hypothermia also pose health risks. Many churches sponsor outdoor activities such as ski trips during the winter months, especially for youth.
Each church should establish guidelines that dictate when outdoor activities should be suspended based upon the forecast, temperature, and wind chill. For example, a winter storm watch indicates severe winter conditions are possible within the next 48 hours. A winter storm warning means that severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin. Establish guidelines for youth leaders that determine your church's policy on youth activities during these conditions. Also provide guidance on how to dress for individuals who participant in outdoor activities during cold weather, or employees who must be outside. Recommend multiple layers of loose-fitting cotton or wool clothing with an outside layer that is water repellent and wind resistant. Layers can be removed as needed to prevent perspiration or chill. Since the head and neck lose body heat faster than any other part of the body, it is important to keep them covered, preferably with a hood or with a hat and scarf. Generally, mittens provide greater warmth than gloves, and woolen socks are also a good choice.