During this long cold winter, most of us have the luxury of hunkering down inside an office or another warm building, but many New York workers have jobs that require them to work outdoors – even in freezing temperatures. Working outdoors in these frigid conditions can give rise to serious workplace injuries and illness.
In extremely cold environments, your body has to work harder to maintain its internal core temperature. To do this, it shifts blood flow away from your outer skin and extremities (hands, arms, and feet) to your core. This shift means that your extremities and exposed skin cool very rapidly, exposing you to cold stress conditions such as hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. These conditions can cause severe damage to bodily tissue or even death.
Upstate New York workers who have developed cold stress illnesses on-the-job should speak to a workers’ comp lawyer as soon as possible to ensure they get the compensation and help they need.
Who is at risk of suffering from cold stress conditions?
Workers at heightened risk during cold weather include: construction workers, snow removal crews, postal workers, police officers, emergency response and recovery crews, baggage handlers, recreational workers, and sanitation workers, among others.
What are symptoms of cold stress conditions?
Those who work in cold environments should be able to recognize signs and symptoms of cold stress conditions in order to avoid or minimize injury. Early symptoms include:
- shivering uncontrollably
- loss of coordination (e.g., worker may drop or fumble with equipment, lose ability to walk or stand without falling)
- confusion and disorientation
- reduced blood flow to hands and feet
- numbness or a tingling feeling in the extremities
Late symptoms of cold stress conditions include:
- uncontrolled shivering stops
- blue or pale, waxy skin
- dilated pupils
- slowed pulse and breathing
- loss of consciousness
What should measures should be taken for someone suffering from cold stress?
If you or a colleague has any of the above symptoms, you should call 911 immediately and alert your supervisor. In addition, you should:
- move the worker into a warm area
- remove any wet or damp clothing, including socks and shoes
- warm the center of their body first, using layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets.
- give a conscious and alert worker warm non-alcoholic beverages to drink.
- if you suspect frostbite, warm the affected areas using body heat (such an armpit). Do not rub the victim’s extremities as this may cause more damage.
What can be done to prevent cold stress injuries among outdoor workers?
The first line of defense is to dress in warm layers. The inner layer should be cotton, which both provides insulation and draws moisture away from the skin, keeping it dry. Always wear a warm hat, gloves, socks and a face mask. If conditions are wet, you outer layers should be waterproof. If your clothes become wet or damp, change into dry ones as quickly as possible.
When working in the cold, take frequent breaks in a warm area to help normalize your body temperature. Also, continually watch for symptoms of cold stress in yourself and others. If you observe them, immediately get to a warm place and seek medical attention.
What is an employer’s duty towards workers during conditions of extreme cold?
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have a duty to provide a workplace free from hazards that are likely to serious physical harm or death. In conditions of extreme cold, employers should take all reasonable steps to protect workers from injury or illness that may arise from the cold.
For example, whenever feasible, employers should:
- train workers on how to identify, prevent and treat cold stress illnesses.
- provide radiant heaters to provide warmth to outdoor workers, when feasible
- set up protective shields that can reduce workers’ exposure to cold drafts or wind.
- reschedule the outdoor work to a warmer part of the day
- give workers frequent breaks in warm areas
- assign workers to jobs in pairs so they can watch for signs of cold stress in each other provide workers with ample water and other non-alcoholic beverages, as cold weather can cause dehydration.
If you or someone you love has suffered hypothermia, frostbite or other cold stress illnesses at the workplace, you need an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help protect your right to compensation. Call me, Paul Giannetti, at (866) 868-2960, or contact me online.
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