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January 08, 2014
Prepare for the next Arctic blast with these cold safety tips

Much of the United States has experienced brutally cold weather for the past several days—and it’s only early January.  Are you prepared, and are your workers protected? Get the cold facts here.

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Earlier this week, a polar vortex ushered in record-breaking cold. It was colder in Atlanta than it was in Moscow. And officials in Indianapolis banned nonemergency driving as that city grappled with snow and plummeting temperatures.

OSHA warns employers and employees that prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures may cause serious health problems like frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot.  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 you have or observe any of these, get emergency help.

Employees should be able to recognize potentially dangerous workplace and environmental conditions. Train them in cold-induced injuries and illnesses, and encourage them to wear proper clothing, including layers that can be adjusted for changing conditions. For those working in the cold, OSHA recommends the following:

  • Take frequent short breaks in warm, dry shelters.
  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages and avoid drinks with caffeine.
  • Work in pairs so that you can keep an eye out for one another.
  • Be careful of increased risk if you take certain medications or have conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

These people know cold weather protection!

Here are a few additional tips to help employees dress properly for cold weather conditions. They come from the makers of the RefrigiWear® brand of insulated industrial outerwear. The company has more than 50 years of experience keeping workers warm in freezing temperatures.

  • Choose clothes according to the job, not according to only the temperature.
  • Don’t wear clothing that’s too small or too tight, as poor blood circulation will reduce the body’s ability to generate heat.
  • Avoid perspiration and keep clothes dry inside and out.
  • Don’t smoke or drink alcohol as nicotine and alcohol reduce the body’s ability to regulate and conserve heat.
  • Pay attention to your body. Cold hands and feet are signs that body temperature has dropped.
  • Choose a clothing mix that includes an inner layer like thermal underwear and an outside insulating layer. Note that more insulation is not necessarily better, as too much can cause sweating. Water-repellent, wind-resistant garments help keep the cold away from the body.
  • Protect the extremities when working in cold, as they are the first to lose heat.
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