Winter Work Hazards: How to Prevent Cold Stress Injuries

Cold weather makes tough, physically demanding jobs even harder.

An employee’s prolonged exposure to cold weather can quickly lead to cold stress and temperature-related injuries such as hypothermia and frostbite. In New Jersey, workers in these industries are at the highest risk of sustaining a work injury:

  • Construction
  • Transportation
  • Warehousing
  • Maintenance
  • Waterfront, maritime

Work injuries caused by the cold are preventable. But for that to happen, employers must ensure employees are warm and safe while doing their jobs. They should also ensure employees understand the symptoms of cold stress – a condition that is typically a precursor to injury – as well as cold-temperature hazards and cold-stress prevention.

What is cold stress?

Cold stress sets in when the internal body temperature of an individual drops to dangerous levels below 95°F. The body has to put more energy into maintaining warmth, which puts it at a higher risk of developing hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related injuries. Cold stress is more than “the chills.” It’s a serious medical condition that requires immediate attention. Once an employee is experiencing cold stress they can enter a progressive downward spiral affecting their attention, reaction times, movement, and coordination.

The cold attacks the body, taking away its warmth in about five ways. Radiation is likely the most obvious. Any exposed skin will radiate body heat, and cold stress will not be far behind. If left untreated, cold temperature injuries can result in amputation and permanent disability. In the most serious cases, cold exposure can be fatal.

Preventing cold stress injuries at work

Here are some things an employer can do to prevent cold stress injuries:

  • Provide indoor warming areas or allow workers to take breaks in a warm vehicle. Workers need more frequent breaks from the cold.
  • Provide appropriate winter-weather PPE designed to retain body heat in whatever conditions work is being done. Appropriate winter PPE (personal protective equipment) balances warmth, durability, and weight. It covers all areas of the body exposed to cold while keeping wetness and wind from speeding up the effects of cold weather exposure.
  • Adjust daily productivity standards, if necessary. Assign a team member to monitor the weather and working conditions at the job site.
  • Plan to work on alternate projects when severe winter weather is expected.
  • Enforce a buddy system to ensure there’s always one employee looking out for another.
  • Educate employees about how to work safely in cold temperature environments.

Cold stress symptoms

Everyone working on cold winter job sites should know how to recognize the signs of cold stress. Recognizing that a coworker is in trouble and taking fast action to get them medical may prevent cold stress from escalating into something worse. Here are the signs and symptoms of cold stress at work:

  • Shivering, shaking
  • Sensations of tingling, stinging, or aching in the areas followed by numbness
  • Skin color goes from red to purple to white or pale
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Slow reaction times
  • Reduced mobility
  • Loss of speech

Shebell & Shebell fights for injured workers in New Jersey

If you suffered a cold stress injury on the job in New Jersey, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits to cover the cost of your medical bills and a percentage of your lost wages. The key is to act fast to protect your rights and get a clear understanding of your potential legal options.

Contact Shebell & Shebell, LLC for a free case evaluation where we can discuss your legal options, advise you of your rights, and help you decide the best next steps. There is no obligation to hire us, just information you can trust from a law firm with almost 100 years of practicing law in New Jersey. To learn more, call us today about your claim.

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