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Cold weather increases risks of work-related injury

Cold temperatures and fast winds can cause cold stress and related injuries for poorly protected outdoor workers in Georgia and throughout the country. Employers can go a long way toward helping their employees understand the warning signs of cold stress and the most effective techniques for protection. The emergency management director for OSHA state that the most common forms of cold-stress injury, including trench foot, hypothermia and frostbite, can be prevented through education and clothing as safety equipment.

Education for workers begins with an understanding of how the body reacts to drops in core body temperature. It also covers the most effective ways to prevent loss of body heat, including a list of risk factors that can cause increased loss of heat.

The OSHA director pointed out that clothing must chosen to combat the four primary dangers, which are cold temperatures, high-velocity winds, cold surfaces and water, and humidity. One suggestion is to layer clothing with wool or synthetic layers closest to the body. These types of fabrics maintain body heat while also allowing transfer of the body's moisture. On the other hand, cotton loses the ability to hold body heat as it becomes damp. Another idea from the OSHA director was to always have some form of headgear for outdoor employees in the cold. This helps to reduce the amount of lost body heat.

Cold stress and related injuries may increase the risk of other types of work-related injury. A poorly trained and equipped worker in dangerous weather could injure the self and others, and this could ultimately result in lost wages, medical expenses, rehabilitation, permanent disability or death. Employers can go a long way toward protecting workers and the safety of their work sites with proper training. For workers who suspect employer negligence played a role in their work-related injuries, a workers' compensation attorney may be able to help.

Source: EHS Today, "How Cold Is Too Cold? 
Tips to Protect Outdoor Workers", Sandy Smith, January 08, 2014

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