Winter is well on its way and, as all Pennsylvania residents know, this means cold temperatures. And, just like working in the heat can lead to serious health problems, so can working in the cold. Those that work in the cold are at risk for developing frostbite, hypothermia, trench foot. These are all very serious conditions. Below are some tips you and your coworkers can use to help prevent these from happening.
Frostbite is when damage is caused to skin and other tissue due to freezing. Signs of frostbite include tingling or stinging in hands, numbness, and bluish/pale waxy skin. If you suspect one of your coworkers is suffering from frostbite, get the person to a warmer location as soon as possible and contact a medical professional. Try to avoid having the person use the frost bitten area (for example, walking with a frostbitten foot). Once inside, the person should immerse the frostbitten area into warm water (not hot).
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below the minimum requirement for normal body functions. During this state, the body is unable to replace the heat that is being lost. Symptoms include shivering, blue skin, and confusion. If a person appears to be suffering from hypothermia they need immediate medical attention. While waiting for medical assistance to arrive, the person should be moved into a warm location, have all wet clothing removed, be wrapped in a dry, warm blanket.
Trench foot is caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary and cold conditions. It is most likely to occur when working in water or deep snow. Although not a common workplace injury since it generally takes at least 13 hours to develop, it can occur to those that work long hours. Symptoms include numb feet, red or blue skin, and swelling. If someone begins showing signs of trench foot, you should contact a medical professional immediately. In the meantime, thoroughly clean and dry the affected feet.
Preventing Cold-Related Conditions
When working in the cold, it’s important to wear appropriate clothing. Be sure to cover all parts of the body with waterproof gloves, hats, and coats, dress in layers, and wear insulated footwear. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and schedule heavier work for the warmer parts of the day when possible. Be sure to take plenty of breaks, especially if you are starting to feel too cold, and work with a partner.
Remember, if you have suffered a cold-related injury, or any other injury, while on the job, you may be entitled to Pennsylvania workers’ compensation. If you live in the Harrisburg, State College, or Wilkes-Barre area, call 877-COMPHELP for a free consultation.