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Prolonged exposure to cold creates risks

December 23, 2004
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OSHA reminds you to take necessary precautions this time of year to prevent and treat cold-related health problems. Workers in construction, commercial fishing, maritime and agriculture are among those most at risk.

Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures might cause trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In extreme cases, including cold-water immersion, exposure can lead to 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 reference guide and recommendations to combat and prevent many illnesses and injuries. Tips include:

  • Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may be dangerous.

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and 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 that can be adjusted to changing conditions.

  • Be sure workers in extreme conditions take a frequent short break in warm, dry shelters to allow their bodies 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.

    For free copies of OSHA's Cold Stress Card in English or Spanish, go to OSHA's Web site, www.osha.gov, or call 1-800-321-OSHA.

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