Many people equate workers’ compensation claims with single-accident injuries or exposure to toxic materials. Any weather-related matters are typically tied to concerns about heat exhaustion or working during the summer months. With the coldest months of the year fast approaching, workers must remember that frigid conditions in Pennsylvania can mean catastrophic, often deadly, work injuries.
While winter weather slip-and-falls and motor vehicle collisions are commonplace, individuals who must work in these frigid conditions face numerous severe injuries, including:
- Trench foot: It is not uncommon for workers to perform job tasks that require standing in water. Whether this is due to rainy weather, melting snow or snow that gets inside the shoes, the longer the foot is wet, the greater the chance of trench foot. Workers will often experience skin redness, tingling, swelling and numbness. As the condition grows in severity, individuals can suffer painful blisters and leg cramps.
- Frostbite: When workers are exposed to freezing temperatures, damage to the skin and underlying tissues can be severe and permanent. The colder the temperature and the duration of the exposure might result in amputation of the affected body part. Often, the fingers, toes, ears and nose are the first to see symptoms. These symptoms can include blisters, loss of sensation, aching and a change in color. The skin on these areas can become red or covered in patches of gray and white.
- Hypothermia: Continued exposure to cold weather will eventually drop the body’s core temperature to dangerous levels. This occurs because the body is losing heat faster than it can produce warmth internally. Hypothermia is a progressive condition and workers will suffer more severe symptoms over time. From loss of coordination and confusion to slurred speech and the loss of consciousness, workers could eventually die from exposure.
While these might be the most serious types of cold stress injuries a worker might face, this list is far from comprehensive. Workers must understand their limitations and the dangers continued exposure to cold weather can mean.