2003-02-22 / Community

Cold Weather Safety Advisory

Cold Weather Safety Advisory

With temperatures expected to remain below freezing into the weekend, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOMHM) Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. has reminded New Yorkers of health and safety precautions to take during the winter season.

"With sustained freezing winter temperatures, New Yorkers should dress warmly in layers, and cover up as much as possible. Since infants and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to body heat loss from cold weather conditions, parents and caregivers should ensure their loved ones are adequately protected from the cold.

Basic precautions should be taken while spending time outdoors during winter. Being prepared can help to prevent serious health effects, including frostbite and hypothermia, associated with the cold weather," notes Dr. Frieden.

Body heat can be retained effectively by taking these precautions:

1. Wear a hat, hood, or scarf, as most heat is lost through the head;

2. Wear layers of clothing, rather than a single outerwear item; layers provide better insulation;

3. Keep clothing dry; if your clothes become wet while outside, change into dry clothes as soon as possible.

Extensive body heat loss can lead to hypothermia, a potentially life-threatening condition in which body temperature drops below 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion, or mental disorientation, fatigue, and irregular heartbeat. In addition, victims of this condition may experience symptoms such as shivering, slurred speech, memory loss, sleepiness, cool or pale skin, slightly blue lips, or numbness in the hands and feet. If someone is suspected of having developed hypothermia, the person should be brought someplace warm and seen by a medical provider as soon as possible.

Frostbite, another dangerous cold weather condition, can affect any area of the body exposed to cold temperatures, most frequently extremities including fingers, toes, ears, and the nose. Frostbite-affected areas of the body should be warmed quickly, using care to avoid intense heat. As with hypothermia, cases of frostbite should be treated by a medical provider.

"Be careful about drinking alcohol in the cold weather," Dr. Frieden continued. "Alcohol increases one's risk for hypothermia and frostbite."

Precautions should also be taken when staying indoors during the cold weather season:

1. Make sure all fuel burning items, such as furnaces, boilers, hot water heaters and clothes dryers, are operating properly, ventilated and regularly inspected by a professional in order to prevent unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

2. Electric heaters should be - used with extreme care to avoid shock, fire, and burns.

3. Keep combustible materials, including furniture, drapes and carpeting at least 3 feet from the heat source.

4. Gas ovens and burners should never be used in place of central heating or portable heaters in one's home.

Additionally, Dr. Frieden reminded New Yorkers that portable fuel burning heaters continue to be illegal for indoor use in the city; use equipment that is approved for indoor use only.

It is a landlord's legal responsibility to provide heat for tenants. In the event of a heat deficiency, a tenant should first attempt to notify the building owner, manager agent or superintendent.

If heat is not restored, the tenant should call the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) at (212) 824-HEAT, (212) 824-4328, where an operator is available twenty-four hours a day. HPD can also receive complaints from hearing-impaired tenants via a Touchtone Device for the Deaf (TTD) at (212) 863-5504.

Low-income seniors may be eligible for a Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) grant to help pay heating and electric bills. Contact the New York City Department for the Aging at (212) 442-1000 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

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