Surviving the Cold: Ways to Prevent Cold Work Injuries

During the winter, it's not uncommon for seasonal and outdoor workers to sustain injuries that are caused by extreme cold temperatures. If you're an outdoor worker, read on for what you need to know about preventing dangerous and deadly cold workplace injuries.

Most Common Cold Work Injuries

Injuries that happen during the cold winter months – like slip and fall injuries caused by ice and snow – are very different than injuries that are caused by freezing temperatures alone.
Three such common workplace cold stress injuries include:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Immersion foot

Hypothermia, frostbite, and immersion foot can all vary in severity. In some cases, hypothermia can be fatal; frostbite can result in amputation; and immersion foot can result in loss of circulation to the feet. In addition to the three serious conditions above, the cold can also exacerbate conditions such as arthritis.

How to Prevent Cold Work Injuries

The following provides some tips on preventing workplace cold stress injuries:

  • Layer your clothing: One of the easiest ways to prevent workplace cold injuries to wear enough layers to keep your body warm. Always wear a layer next to the skin that is designed to wick away sweat – cotton is a poor choice because if it gets wet then it won't dry, leaving your body chilled. Synthetic materials, like polyesters, are a good choice for the layer closest to your skin. After that, wear fleeces and wools, and then a coat or shell. In addition to layering, making sure you wear proper gloves, boots, a hat, and a face mask if necessary.
  • Stay dry: Outdoor workers are often exposed to rain, hail, and snow, which can leave them soaked to the bone. Make sure to always wear a hat, a waterproof coat with a hood, outdoor waterproof pants, and waterproof gloves. If you get wet, your body may have a difficult time warming you up, which can lead to one of the injury types mentioned above.
  • Take breaks: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn't set a temperature standard for outdoor workers, but instead states that "how cold is too cold" is dependent upon the region of the country. However, labor laws also stipulate that an employee cannot be made to work in a hazardous condition. When it's extremely cold out, make sure you take breaks while working in order to warm up, as well regularly eat to fuel your body and drink hot liquid.
  • Stay healthy: OSHA states that people are more at risk for workplace cold stress injuries if they are exhausted, in poor physical condition, or already have a preexisting health condition. You can decrease your risk of suffering a cold stress injury by staying healthy, staying in good physical shape, fueling your body with the right nutrients and by staying hydrated.

When Cold Stress Injuries Occur

If you notice any of the symptoms of a cold stress injury (changes in color is skin, numbness, changes in skin texture, dizziness or confusion), you need to stop working and seek medical care immediately. If you have a sustained a cold stress injury while working, workers' compensation insurance should cover your medical expenses, and well as lost wages if missing work is necessary.

If you have difficulty obtaining compensation that is owed to you, you may have to contact a local workers' compensation attorney to stand as your legal representative on your behalf.

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