Winter may be over, but Service Personnel face an additional risk when undertaking field-based training exercises in cold weather. Whilst awareness of non-freezing cold injury (NFCI) has increased significantly over the last few years, there still remains a significant amount of ignorance about the condition and, in particular, its early signs.
There is no doubt that cold weather kit and good personal administration will help reduce the risk of cold injury. However, they will not, in isolation, be guaranteed to keep you safe.
It is therefore important that you, as an individual, are aware of the risks you face. The degree of risk will be influenced by a number of factors.
The Main Ones are:
- The temperature – the colder it is, the greater the risk
- The duration of the exposure – the longer the exercise, the greater the risk
- Whether your kit is wet or dry – wet kit drastically increases risk
- The nature of your training – long, static duties such as stag, manning an observation post (OP) or setting an ambush can significantly increase risk as your body is less active and therefore generating less heat.
Where these risk factors arise, it is essential that you appreciate the risk and are mindful of the clues your body will give you that you are beginning to suffer a cold injury. The first sign is numbness. This is not “normal” or “a sign of weakness”; it is the early stage of a cold injury.
The very early stages may be manageable. You should change your socks and powder your feet. If the situation allows, you should have a brew and eat something hot. It could help to also jog on the spot or perform some other physical exercise to raise your core temperature.
However, if none of these measures see your hands or feet rewarm and feeling returns, you must report your condition immediately. If you report these symptoms at an early stage and rewarming takes place, the chances of you avoiding injury are dramatically higher.
At this early stage, you may not need to be Returned to Unit (RTU’d). A few hours in the warm is often enough and, as long as the medic is happy you have rewarmed properly, there is no reason why you cannot be returned to the field and continue with the training.
Over the years, many soldiers have ignored these early warning signs. Many do not appreciate their significance but some decide to deliberately conceal them for fear of failure – this is a very short-sighted view. Even if the decision is taken to withdraw you completely from the training and this sees you fail a course or cadre, the consequences of that failure on your career will be far less costly than a lengthy period of downgrade during which you are unable to work outdoors.
The long-term restrictions on your employability caused by an established cold injury will often result in PAP10 discharge. Being withdrawn from a course never ended anybody’s career.