Surviving frigid temperatures and dangerous weather conditions
During the winter months, it's not uncommon for seasonal and outdoor workers to sustain injuries like frostbite or trench foot because of extremely cold temperatures. This is why it's imperative for both employers and workers to learn how to prevent dangerous and even deadly cold workplace injuries.
Most common cold work injuries
Extreme cold weather tends to enhance the likelihood and severity of normal injuries. For instance, a slip and fall on ice can be much worse than a normal fall. However, freezing temperatures also present unique problems of their own, such as:
- Frostnip (the lesser, reversible version)
- Immersion foot (colloquially known as “trench foot”)
These injuries vary in terms of their severity. Hypothermia can prove fatal; frostbite can result in numb toes or amputation; trench foot can lead to the loss of circulation in your feet. Working outdoors in the cold can also exacerbate underlying issues like arthritis and chronic pain.
Cold injury definition and symptoms
A cold injury is caused by exposure to low temperatures. There are two main types of cold injuries: freezing (such as frostnip or frostbite) and non-freezing (such as chilblains, trench foot, and hypothermia). Symptoms of cold injuries include:
- Loss of sensation
- Loss of consciousness
- Confusion or distress
Cold injuries can also cause long-term chronic issues, such as:
- Skin cancer in frostbite scars
- Neurologic injury (neuropathic pain) associated with injured extremities
- Hot or cold tingling sensations
- Vascular injury (Raynaud's disease) in which extremities become discolored or painful when cold
How to prevent cold work injuries
Here are some tips to prevent workplace cold injuries:
- Layer your clothing. Layering is one of the most effective ways to fight off the cold. Which fabrics you use to bundle up also mater. The layer next to your skin should wick away sweat, so avoid cotton; otherwise, your body will be doubly chilled. Synthetic materials such as polyesters are a good choice for a base layer. Above that, fleeces and wools are best, along with a coat or water-repellant shell. Also, make sure to wear a proper hat, gloves, and face mask if necessary. Much of your body heat escapes through your head and face.
- Take breaks. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) doesn't set a threshold temperature standard for outdoor workers, though it does state that the question of “how cold is too cold” depends upon the geographic region. Labor laws stipulate that an employee cannot be made to work in hazardous conditions. Take breaks every five to 10 minutes when the temperature drops (yes, that often), and make sure your pulse doesn't exceed 85% of your maximum heart rate. (You can determine what your maximum heart rate is by subtracting your age from 220.) Use break time to warm up and refuel your body before venturing outside once more.
- Stay dry. Outdoor workers are often exposed to freezing rain, hail, and snow, leaving them soaked to the bone if they aren't prepared with waterproof material. Keep waterproof clothing nearby if possible, because getting wet in cold temperatures means you will have difficulty warming up. This leads to the common cold injuries listed above.
- Stay healthy. OSHA notes that people are more at risk for workplace cold and stress injuries if they are exhausted, have a preexisting health condition, or are in poor physical condition. Reduce your risk of suffering from a cold stress injury by staying in good shape, taking time off to treat colds, fueling your body with the right nutrients, and staying hydrated.
When cold work injuries occur
If you notice any of the symptoms associated with cold stress injuries (such as changes in skin color or texture, numbness, dizziness, confusion, or fast heart rate), stop working and get inside immediately. While you're warming up, seek immediate medical attention. Workers' compensation insurance should cover any injuries related to your employment, as well as lost wages if you end up missing work.
If you have difficulty obtaining work injury benefits owed to you, it is a good idea to speak to a local workers' compensation attorney. He or she can stand as your legal representative on your behalf, which will allow you to focus on healing (and staying warm!).
Ready to learn more about a cold injury lawsuit?
If you think your health problems and pain after suffering an outdoor injury should be resolved in court, check out these helpful articles:
- Choosing a personal injury attorney – interview questions
- Negotiating lawyers fees - how do accident lawyers charge? Are there any hidden costs?
- Tips on finding a qualified personal injury attorney - where to look
- Search our directory for an attorney near you
Do you work outside in the heat? Heat-related injuries can be just as dangerious and debilitating as the cold.
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