Cold Stress Injuries

December 10, 2018

As the winter season progresses, it is important for workers to be aware of extreme cold weather conditions. Snow cleanup workers, police officers, emergency response personnel and others who work outside face risk of injury due to cold stress if the proper precautions are not taken. Although there is no Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard specifically covering working in cold environments, employers must comply with the General Duty Clause, which states that they shall provide employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or physical harm.

What Constitutes Extreme Cold?

As OSHA explains, extreme cold can mean different temperatures depending on what part of the country one is in. Certain regions that do not get winter weather may consider near freezing temperatures to be extreme cold while others that experience harsh winters may consider extreme cold to be temperatures below zero. Wind chill can also affect how cold it feels, sometimes by many degrees.

Safety Risks of Working in Extreme Cold Temperatures

Working in extreme cold for extended periods can drive down one’s skin and internal body temperature. This can lead to serious, sometimes fatal health conditions. If workers are wet or damp, not dressed properly, or are overtired, they may experience symptoms of cold stress more quickly. There are also other risk factors that contribute to cold stress such as health conditions such as diabetes and being in poor physical condition.

Some of the most common injuries workers can suffer due to cold stress include:

  • Frostbite – When the skin and the underlying tissues become frozen, it is called frostbite. Typically, the extremities are the body parts affected by frostbite and may even require amputation in certain cases. Some symptoms include red skin, numbness and skin that feels hard or is blistered.
  • Hypothermia – This condition occurs when the body loses heat that it cannot replace, and the internal body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers can suffer hypothermia even at milder temperatures above 40 degrees if they are also wet. Symptoms include shivering, disorientation, slowing of the pulse and perhaps even loss of consciousness.
  • Trench foot – When a person’s feet are exposed to cold temperatures, especially if they are wet for long periods, it can cause trench foot. Trench foot occurs when the foot’s skin tissue dies due to a lack of oxygen and a buildup of toxins due to loss of circulation.

How to Prevent Injury from Cold Stress

Workers should wear the proper clothes to provide themselves with adequate insulation. OSHA recommends wearing a hat, a knit mask and insulated, waterproof gloves and boots, as well as at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing consisting of an inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic wicking fabric, a middle layer of wool or synthetic fabric for insulation and an outer wind and rain protection layer with ventilation. Employers should also provide training, personal protective equipment (PPE), heaters and rotate workers out of the cold.

Philadelphia Workers’ Comp Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Represent Workers Injured by Cold Stress

If you were injured due to cold stress at work, contact a Philadelphia workers’ comp lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We can help you obtain monetary compensation and ensure that your rights are protected. Our experienced attorneys represent clients in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania. For a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 888-PITT-LAW today.

Our offices are conveniently located in Philadelphia, LansdowneBensalem and Reading, where we serve clients in Berks CountyBucks CountyChester CountyDelaware CountyMontgomery County, and Philadelphia County, as well as those in the communities of AbingtonAmblerArdmoreBala CynwydBensalemClifton HeightsCrum Lynne, DarbyDowningtownDoylestownDrexel HillEssington, FolcroftGlenoldenHaverfordHavertownHolmesKutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion StationMorton, Narberth, Norristown, NorwoodPhiladelphiaProspect Park, QuakertownReadingRoxboroughSharon HillUpper Darby, West Chester and Wynnewood.