While children spend their winter hoping that a massive snow storm will happen and school will be canceled, most adults have a very different perspective, understanding that while winter weather is beautiful, it is also dangerous. This is particularly true for anyone who works outside in the cold.
How Winter Weather Hurts
The first signs of exposure to cold are ones that nearly everyone is aware of. The body attempts to retain warmth and boost its core temperature by causing muscles to shiver, teeth to chatter, and the hair on our skin to rise. The point, from a basic survival standpoint, is to keep the vital organs warm until shelter can be reached.
If the body is exposed to extreme temperatures for a long period of time, there is always a chance that serious damage can be done, putting life and limb at risk. Serious health conditions caused by exposure to cold include:
- Trench Foot – when the skin on the foot is wet, it loses heat more than 20 times faster than a dry foot. In order to stop the loss of heat, the blood vessels in the foot constrict which actually shuts down proper circulation. If the foot isn’t dried and warmed quickly, the lack of circulation results in tissue death. Symptoms of trench foot are swelling, blisters, numbness, and red skin.
- Frostbite – this condition occurs when the skin and tissues below the skin actually freezes. It most often occurs in the fingers and toes if the body feels that it needs to sacrifice the limbs in order to keep the vital organs safe. Workers should immediately seek medical attention if their skin looks gray or white, feels hard, or develops numbness and blisters.
- Hypothermia – When the body’s temperature fails to remain stable and goes below 95 degrees, hypothermia sets in. Disorientation, loss of coordination, dilated pupils, and loss of consciousness are all signs that medical treatment is needed immediately.
These aren’t the only dangers faced by workers who are out and about during wintertime. Freezing rain, ice, and snow can all create dangerous conditions which may result in serious injuries such as lacerations, broken bones, damage to the vertebrae or spinal cord, and traumatic brain injury.
Employees in the following industries are the most likely to suffer from a winter weather-related injury or illness:
- Police Officers
- Baggage Handlers
- Construction Crews
- Recreational Workers
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970, employers have a duty to protect anyone who may be exposed to cold weather hazards.
An Employer’s Responsibilities
In order to make sure that their employees are safe, employers should:
- Provide employees with adequate training on the hazards of working in cold conditions.
- Teach them the symptoms of trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia.
- Inform them and provide them with the necessary gear to stay warm.
- Monitor their schedule and the amount of time they are exposed.
- Require them to work in pairs so no one is ever alone.
- Provide warm beverages.
- Provide heaters where and when possible.
If a worker succumbs to the cold, they should see a doctor as quickly as possible and get the treatments they need to recover – treatments that should be covered by workers’ compensation.
Workers’ Comp Claims
Once an employee has been harmed or become ill due to winter weather, they have the right, in most cases, to file a workers’ compensation claim. If the claim is approved, their medical bills that are for treatments directly relating to the work-related injury will be covered by their employer’s insurance company.
If the medical condition is serious enough that the employee cannot return to work for an extended period of time, they may also be able to obtain a fraction of their wages until they are able to once again return to work.
Can I Sue My Employer?
No. By providing their employees with workers’ compensation, an employer protects themselves from being named as the defendant in a personal injury lawsuit.