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Has your cold work environment caused cold stress injuries?

Is your health compromised? Then you might want to take special care if your job keeps you outdoors, in cold storage areas or unheated buildings. Safety authorities say the most vulnerable Pennsylvania workers are those who are older, have high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.

Exposure to wind and cold air will cause your body to lose heat rapidly, and cold stress can result. It might surprise you that cold stress can even occur at temperatures as high as 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Conditions resulting from cold stress

Cold stress is a collective term that includes the following types of illnesses, which require immediate medical care:

  • Frostbite -- Your cheeks, chin, nose, ears fingers and toes can turn blue or pale and feel tingly or numb. This may be a sign that the cold has frozen these body parts.
  • Hypothermia -- Although your body produces heat all the time, cold conditions may cause it to lose heat faster than what it can generate. If your breathing and pulse slow down, and your skin starts to turn blue, it could be the start of hypothermia, which could be fatal if you do not get to a warm area immediately.
  • Chilblains -- If you work in cold conditions -- above freezing temperatures -- frequently, ulcers and blisters may develop on the same parts of your body that are also vulnerable to frostbite. It may start with redness and itching of affected areas.
  • Trench Foot -- This is another condition that can develop in temperatures just above freezing if your feet are damp and cold for extended periods. Tingling, numbness and redness may indicate the onset of trench foot, leading to bleeding or blisters. If you leave this condition untreated, it could develop into gangrene and ultimately, amputation.

Precautions you can take

Safety authorities recommend dressing appropriately to protect you from the effects of cold conditions. They say loose fitting clothes, worn in layers, trap pockets of warm air. Furthermore, if the fabric of the layers is silk, wool or synthetic materials, your skin will remain dry. The outer layer must be a type of fabric that will protect you from rain and wind, while it allows ventilation to prevent overheating.

Headgear that also covers your ears can prevent losing heat through the head, and waterproof insulated boots and gloves can protect your toes and fingers from cold stress. When clothes become wet from sweat or contact with ice or snow, it will conduct the body heat away from your body, and having extra clothes handy can be helpful.

Additional safety tips

Eating warm foods with high-calorie counts and drinking sweet, warm beverages may be wise, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol may also help. If you understand the dangers posed by cold work environments, and the signs and symptoms of cold stress, you could prevent serious cold-related injuries. OSHA also recommends working in pairs so that there will always be one to call for help if necessary.

You may rest assured that the Pennsylvania workers' compensation insurance program will cover any medical expenses or lost wages due to cold stress injuries. You also retain the right to seek the support and guidance of an experienced attorney to navigate a benefits claim on your behalf.

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