Tips To Protect Workers In Cold Environments

Jan. 28, 2003
You know it's cold when you can't get the dog to go outside. But some of us have to go outside and record and near record lows across much of the country are taking their toll on outdoor workers.

OSHA is reminding workers and employers to take necessary precautions against the snow and cold found across the country. Workers in construction, commercial fishing, maritime and agriculture are among those who need to take precautions.

Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures can result in serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In extreme cases, including cold water immersion, exposure can result in death. Danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. If these signs are observed, call for emergency help.

OSHA's Cold Stress Card provides a quick reference guide and recommendations. Available in English and Spanish, this laminated fold-up card is free to employers, workers and the public. It can be ordered on OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov or by calling 1-800-321-OSHA.

Among the tips offered on the card:

  • Recognize environmental and workplace conditions that can be dangerous.
  • Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses/injuries and what to do to help workers.
  • Train workers about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
  • Encourage workers to wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions including layers so they can adjust to changing conditions.
  • Be sure that workers take frequent short breaks in warm dry shelters to allow the body to warm up.
  • Try to schedule work for 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 so that one worker can recognize danger signs.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate) or alcohol.
  • Eat warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta dishes.

Remember, workers face increased risks when they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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