With the chilly, wintry weather comes certain job-related hazards, especially for employees working outside or indoors in low temperatures. Cold stress can cause a variety of physical problems, some of which can be deadly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that approximately 4,000 workers file temperature-related injury claims every year. Luckily, there are several precautionary steps that employers and employees alike can take in order to prevent cold stress-related illnesses and injuries.
Some of the most common conditions related to cold stress that workers experience are:
Certain workers face particularly high risks for temperature-related illnesses and injuries. According to OSHA those workers are meat packers, bakers, recreation and event staff, roadway employees, and landscapers. Employers in these industries should be especially mindful of implementing effective control measures that help prevent avoidable temperature-related injuries from occurring.
Workers who are exposed to cold stress hazards should be sure to know the symptoms of hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. Some of the most common symptoms associated with trench foot include visible changes to the feet, such as blotchy skin, redness, blisters, and skin tissue that dies and falls off. Trench foot can also be accompanied by certain physical sensations, such as:
Hypothermia and frostbite present quite differently although both result from sustained exposure to cold temperatures. Symptoms of frostbite generally include a prickling or numb sensation, waxy or “hard” looking skin, skin that turns white, red, bluish-white, or grayish-yellow, skin that blisters after reheating, and clumsiness or a decreased range of motion/physical movement in the affected area(s). Frostbite is a serious medical condition requiring immediate medical intervention and treatment.
Hypothermia can cause deadly complications like heart problems, kidney failure, pneumonia, and hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen to blood tissue. Common signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:
If you suspect that you or someone you work with is becoming hypothermic, please call 9-1-1 right away.
Employers are obligated to provide employees with safe and healthy work environments, and protecting them from recognizable cold stress-related hazards is no exception. Because both air temperature and wind speed affect how cold a person feels, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) developed an instructional guide overseeing maximum work periods and the necessary number of breaks during a 4-hour shift.
Some other safe work practices and control measures that can effectively limit cold stress exposure at work include:
If you experienced a cold stress-related injury on the job and are considering filing a workers’ compensation claim, someone at our firm can help. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.
If you were injured at work, please contact our Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorneys. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.