When your job requires you to be outside even through the cold winter months, you're entitled to safe work environment. When you suffer an injury or serious illness because of the cold or other outside conditions, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation while you recover. However, before thinking about recovery, we encourage you and your employer to think about prevention.
Who Is at Risk for a Cold-Weather Injury?
The weather in Kansas and Missouri can turn bitterly cold in winter, resulting in dangerous conditions for travel, and exposure to hazards for people who are out in the elements for extended periods of time. Workers who are required to be outside during the winter include, but aren't limited to:
- Snow cleanup crews
- Construction workers
- Recreational workers
- Street maintenance employees
- Postal workers
- Police officers
- Baggage handlers
- Support workers for oil and gas operations
While many of us are unaffected at work by changes in the weather, these employees have no choice but to brave the elements and continue to provide the services their jobs require. Preparing for the cold requires special training, clothing, and gear that should be supplied by an employer if the job demands outdoor work in winter.
Cold-Related Illness and Injury
Workers who are exposed to extremely low temperatures for long periods of time risk suffering the following cold-related illnesses:
- Hypothermia. In response to extremely low temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can produce it. When this happens, the body’s core temperature can drop below a safe level, affecting the brain and making it hard for the person to think clearly. Early symptoms include shivering, fatigue, and confusion or disorientation. If a person with hypothermia isn't warmed up quickly, he can lose consciousness and suffer permanent damage.
- Frostbite. When an area of the body is frozen, body tissues can be permanently affected and, in extreme cases, result in amputation. The nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes are most commonly affected by frostbite.
- Trench foot. This condition is caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions. Even in water temperatures as high as 60 degrees, circulation to the foot can be cut off, resulting in tissue death and loss of the foot.
- Chilblains. Cold exposure can cause damage to the capillary beds in the skin. This damage is permanent and the redness and itching will return with additional exposure. The redness and itching typically occurs on cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes.
These conditions can all escalate to extremely serious levels and result in the loss of a hand or foot, or even death. The key to stopping these illnesses from progressing is being aware of the symptoms and getting out of the cold.
Preparing for Work in Extreme Cold
The most important step an employer can take with employees who work outdoors is training them to spot the signs and symptoms of cold-related illness and injury. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers should also take the following actions:
- Provide workers with the proper tools and equipment to do their jobs.
- Develop work plans that identify potential hazards and the safety measures used to protect workers.
- Schedule maintenance and repair jobs for warmer months.
- Schedule jobs that expose workers to the cold weather in the warmer part of the day.
- Avoid exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible.
- Limit the amount of time spent outdoors on extremely cold days.
- Use relief workers to alternate with assigned workers for long, demanding jobs.
- Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
- Provide warm liquids to workers.
- Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.
- Monitor the weather conditions during a winter storm and have a reliable means of communicating with workers to stop work or evacuate when necessary.
When Workers’ Comp May be Necessary
If you suffer frostbite or hypothermia from exposure at work, you may need time off to recover. You may also need expensive medical treatment to regain your health. Your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance should pay these expenses, but you'll have to file an injury report with your manager and see an authorized worker’s comp doctor. If your workers’ comp claim has been denied, or you believe your employer is retaliating against you for filing a claim, contact Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys for assistance.