There are many workers whose jobs require them to be outside year round. In winter, this means navigating cold weather, precipitation, and many other safety hazards. Employers and workers need to be aware of steps they can take to mitigate the risks of workplace injuries and occupational illnesses in the winter months.
Training workers about the risk of cold exposure and how to recognize signs and symptoms of cold stress can help protect them against injuries and illnesses. If a worker does incur an injury, they should speak to a lawyer about a Workers’ Compensation claim.
Who is Vulnerable to Outside Conditions?
Some workers who are vulnerable to outside hazards include:
- Airport employees
- Agricultural workers
- Construction workers
- Delivery workers, such as postal workers and food delivery drivers
- Emergency medical technicians
- Oil and gas industry workers
- Police and law enforcement workers
- Public transit workers
Some indoor workplaces also require cold temperatures for storage, and these workers are also at risk, such as those who work in cold storage warehouses, food preparation and processing, supermarkets, and food transportation.
Workers with chronic health conditions may be at higher risk for cold stress, including those with diabetes, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and cardiovascular disease. Smoking also makes workers more susceptible to cold weather injuries and illnesses.
What are Some Common Winter-Related Injuries and Illnesses?
The most common winter-related injuries and illnesses include the following:
Cold Stress: Permanent damage and even death occurs when the body’s internal temperature falls to a point where it cannot warm itself anymore. Cold conditions are not just a matter of temperature. Wind, dampness, and water must all be taken into consideration.
Frostbite: Frostbite is a skin and tissue condition that is caused by exposure to severe cold or contact with cold objects. The skin freezes, causing damage to tissues and blood vessels. In severe cases, the tissue dies and requires the removal of the affected area, which can result in the loss of function of the body part. Frostbite most commonly affects areas difficult to protect from the cold, such as the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, stinging, and aching sensations. The skin may appear white, hard, pale or waxy, followed by redness, blistering, and swelling.
Hypothermia: This is defined by a fall in body temperature to below 96 degrees Fahrenheit. A worker suffering from hypothermia may have blue lips or fingers and shivers uncontrollably. As the condition advances, the heart rate drops and breathing slows down, causing confusion, disorientation, and slurred speech. Extreme cases of hypothermia may result in the loss of consciousness.
Trench Foot: Trench foot is a condition that is caused by prolonged cold and dampness over long periods of time. It is important to keep feet dry to prevent them from losing heat. Trench foot causes the feet to tingle and turn red. They may also be painful and swollen with blisters. Eventually, the feet can turn dark purple, blue, or gray when gangrene sets in.
Fall Injuries: Slip and fall accidents can happen in any season, but they are much more common in winter conditions. Injuries from slip and falls can range from minor sprains and strains to serious brain and head injuries and back injuries. Broken bones and bruises are also common.
Car Crash Injuries: Outdoor workers using motor vehicles also have a higher risk of car accidents in the winter months.
What Steps Should Employers Take to Reduce Work Accidents in the Winter?
Employers should do the following precautions to reduce work injuries and illnesses:
- Treat sidewalks, parking lots, and other outdoor surfaces to prevent slip and fall accidents. Keep walkways free of obstacles, and mark hazardous areas.
- Schedule outdoor workers for frequent breaks in a warm, dry area where hot drinks are available.
- Reduce drafts in indoor cold storage areas, rotating employees between warmer and colder areas.
- Limit exposure to cold as much as possible by scheduling work for the warmest parts of the day.
- Provide appropriate protective gear.
- Educate workers on the symptoms of cold stress, using the buddy system to identify a worker suffering from cold exposure.
- Monitor weather conditions and factor in wind chill to determine safe working conditions.
- Keep work vehicles well-maintained for winter driving conditions, and equip them with winter safety kits that include blankets, jumper cables, first aid kits, flashlights, shovels, and traction supplies, such as sand or kitty litter.
- Have emergency supplies on hand for workers with cold stress symptoms. In addition to first aid kits, outdoor workers should have access to thermometers, hand warmers, and blankets.
What Should Outdoor Workers Do in the Winter?
Outdoor workers must be trained to recognize winter safety hazards and should remember the following tips to stay safe during the winter months:
- Dress in layers made of moisture wicking fabric, such as wool, silk, or synthetic fabric. Avoid cotton clothing because it does not stay warm when wet. Cover any exposed skin before going outside by wearing a hat, face covering, gloves, and socks.
- Wear waterproof insulated footwear with heavy treads to prevent slip and falls and to keep cold out.
- Wear waterproof insulated mittens whenever it is possible instead of gloves because mittens keeps hands warmer.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and smoking, which restricts blood vessels and reduces circulation.
- Remove any clothing that becomes damp or wet.
- Do not touch cold metal surfaces with unprotected skin.
- Drive slower and allow for longer stopping distances in winter weather conditions. Watch out for black ice, and remember that bridges, ramps, and exposed road surfaces freeze first.
Vineland Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Assist Injured Outdoor Workers with Injury Claims
If you have a severe work injury, contact an experienced Vineland Workers’ Compensation lawyer at DiTomaso Law. Our skilled team will evaluate your case and help you get the maximum amount of compensation that is available to you. Complete our online form or call us at 856-414-0010 for a free consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Mt. Holly, Camden County, and Vineland.