Protecting Workers in Wicked Winter Weather

Working in a cold environment — whether it be cold weather, cold water, or an indoor freezer — is part of the job for many in the Carolinas, especially during this time of year. One of the major hazards you face when working in the cold is losing your body heat. If your body becomes so cold that it can no longer produce more heat than it loses, you are becoming a victim of hypothermia, frostbite or trench foot.
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Hypothermia occurs when body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced and the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F), particularly if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Our workers’ compensation lawyers in Greenville know symptoms of these conditions are relatively similar to just being cold — and that’s why it’s important that everyone on your job site be able to point out these conditions and know what to do. Early symptoms of hypothermia include fatigue, shivering, confusion, disorientation and loss of coordination. Later symptoms include blue skin, no shivering, dilated pupils, slowed breathing, slowed pulse and a loss of consciousness.

People with frostbite first begin to lose feeling in their skin. Affected tissues often turn white or gray, and begin to feel unusually firm or waxy. Blisters and more severe skin discoloration can begin to develop, later requiring more advanced medical care. The body parts most vulnerable to frostbite in these conditions are the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes.

Trenchfoot is “wet cold disease” that happened when someone is exposed to a damp or wet environment from above the freezing point to about 10°C (50°F). Depending on the temperature, the formation of this condition can take several hours or even several days to develop. The average is about three days. Trenchfoot is more likely to occur at lower temperatures whereas an immersion foot is more likely to occur at higher temperatures and longer exposure times. A similar condition of the hands can occur if a person wears wet gloves for a prolonged period under cold conditions described above. Symptoms are similar to an immersion foot.

When treating these conditions, you’ll want to dial 9-1-1 for emergency assistance. Get the affected individual indoors. Preventing further heat loss is critical. Keep the victim protected from cold ground (put a dry, thick barrier between them and any cold surface) and shield from cold and wind (use your own body as a shield if necessary). Make sure that anything you use that touches the victim is dry. Take off their wet clothing and dry them off if needed. Cover them in blankets and warm, dry clothing. Don’t put them in warm water. This can cause heart arrhythmia. If using hot water bottles or chemical hot packs, wrap them in cloth; don’t apply them directly to the skin. Be aware of the risk of causing body surface burns from exuberant active external rewarming. Once the person’s body temperature has increased, keep them warm and dry.

Stay safe out there and remember to stay warm. The cold weather is not only uncomfortable for many, but it’s dangerous, too.

If you or someone you love was injured in a workplace accident, contact our Carolina worker’s compensation attorneys today by calling 800-887-1965.

More Blog Entries:

NC Work Injuries: OSHA Safety Plans and New Regulations for 2014, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, January 9, 2014

CNC Construction Injuries: OSHA’s “Fatal Four”, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog, January 6, 2014

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