January 2008 Safety Tip
"But it NEVER gets COLD in the desert!!"

Winter in the desert southwest is usually seen as warm and pleasant, a place where retirees from the northern climes come to bask in the sun. But what about those of us who live here through the summer heat and are acclimated differently?

Even though the Phoenix metro area is getting warmer, during the months of December, January, and February many of the fringe areas experience subfreezing temperatures, especially in the mornings. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause health problems as the body tries to stay warm. Trench foot, frostbite, hypothermia, and even death can result from cold exposure. Symptoms include slurred speech, uncontrolled shivering, clumsiness, and confusion. Employers and workers in the agricultural and construction industries, as well as citizens enjoying the Arizona outdoors, should take precautions and learn to prevent and treat cold disorders.

OSHA has published a Cold Stress Card, available for free in Spanish and English versions, that includes ideas for protection and references for warning signs and prevention. Some 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. Knowing the facts on cold exposure and following a few simple guidelines can ensure that the cold season is a safe and healthy one.

Additional information can be found at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), or on one of the following OSHA fact sheets and news releases:

Protecting Workers in Cold Environments - December 22, 1998

OSHA Offers Tips to Protect Workers in Cold Environments - January 8, 2002

OSHA Offers Tips to Protect Workers in Cold Environments - December 9, 2003