Cold Weather Injuries and Workers’ Compensation

Posted on Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 at 3:41 pm    

As North Carolina and Virginia get ready for lower temperatures, it helps to consider some of the causes of cold weather injuries. While many conditions are more severe in northern states; southern climates do experience snow, ice, frost, and winter chills. The effects of cold weather are most prominent among anyone who works outdoors – such as construction workers and agricultural workers. Other workers who are in danger of cold weather injuries include:

  • Workers who build and maintain roads
  • Airport personnel
  • Dock workers
  • Workers who work in food storage, processing, and packing
  • Window cleaners
  • Public safety workers such as police, firefighters, and emergency technicians
  • Postal workers
  • Trash collectors and sanitation workers

The good news for anyone who works in cold weather or is affected by cold weather is that that as long as the accident occurred during work, the employee should be able to file a work injury claim – without the need to prove an employer was at fault for not salting the ice, providing warning signs, or taking other precautions.

Causes of cold weather injuries

Some of the many different types of winter workplace injuries that occur during cold weather are:

  • Slips and falls because snow and ice was not cleared from sidewalks, parking lots, and other outdoor sites
  • Slips and falls because workers and visitors track melting snow water and dirt into the entranceways of the workplace building
  • Vehicle accidents due to cold weather. Ice, especially black ice which isn’t readily visible, can easily cause a driver to lose control of his/her vehicle. Truck drivers who are injured while delivering goods, construction workers who use vehicles at construction sites, and salespeople who are on the road – all can claim workers’ compensation benefits if they are hurt in a car or truck accident while on company time.

Employers should take extra precautions to:

  • Ensure their workers are properly dressed for the cold
  • Ensure that vehicles are inspected so they don’t break down on the roads
  • If necessary, make sure vehicles are equipped with appropriate snow tires
  • Ensure that machines and equipment are in working order if they are to be used outdoors or in cold conditions
  • Make sure they review weather forecasts and plan accordingly

Hypothermia, Trench foot, and Frostbite

Hypothermia is a major risk for workers who work outside or who work inside where there isn’t a proper amount of insulation or heat. Often, it’s the inside workers who are at most risk for hypothermia because outside workers take steps to prepare for working in the cold starting with making sure they are properly dressed. 

Hypothermia is the falling of the body’s temperature below 95 degrees, 3.6 degrees below the body’s normal temperature of 98.6 degrees. Hypothermia, if not treated promptly, can be threaten a worker’s life. The disorder can cause cardiac failure and breathing difficulties. Survivors may suffer gangrene and frostbite – especially in their fingers and toes.

Some of the symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • A pulse that is weak
  • Speech that is slurred
  • A lack of coordination
  • A poor pulse rate
  • A lack of energy
  • Tiredness and fatigue

Some of the key risk factors for hypothermia in workers include:

  • Being in the cold for long stretches of time
  • Getting wet
  • Inadequate clothing
  • Poor heating systems

Wind is an extreme risk factor for hypothermia because it lowers the effective temperature and can remove the warm air at the skin level. Areas that aren’t properly protected are especially vulnerable to losing heat. Contact with ice and other cold surfaces can also increase the risk of hypothermia.

Other risk factors for hypothermia include drinking alcohol, the use of drugs, some medications, the age of the worker, and how tired the worker is. Workers who are exposed to cold should dress in layers, keep dry, and pay special attention to keeping their head, hands, and face warm. Employers should allow for extra break times in cold weather. Employers should also rotate their work force more often so no worker is in the cold for too long.

Trench foot. This condition occurs when the foot is wet. To stop any heat loss, the foot’s blood vessels constrict, which can cause circulation to be shut down. If not treated correctly and in a timely manner, the constrictions can cause tissue to die. Some of the symptoms of trench foot include blisters, redness of the skin, swelling, and numbness.

Frostbite. The disorder occurs when the skin and the tissues underneath the skin begin to freeze. Usually, frostbite occurs in the toes and the fingers – so that the body can keep the vital organs working. Any worker whose skin turns white or gray, whose skin becomes hard, or who develops blisters or numbness should be treated by medical professionals immediately.

Workers who suffer hypothermia, trench foot, frostbite due to direct exposure to the cold or suffer broken bones and other injuries due to workplace accidents have the right to file a work injury claim. The claim should include:

  • Payment of all medical bills including doctor visits, hospital stays, and medications
  • Compensation, primarily at the 2/3rds rate of their lost wages for the time they can’t work
  • If any part of the body requires amputation, the worker may be entitled to statutory benefits for a permanent disability.

North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation Lawyer Joe Miller Esq. has been fighting for injured employees for more than a quarter of a century. He’ll fight the efforts of the insurance company to deny or limit your claim. He’ll contest every attempt to force you back to work before you’re ready. His priority is helping you get all the medical benefits and lost wages the state laws permit. To review your rights and to speak with a strong advocate, call attorney Joe Miller at 888-694-1671 or complete my online contact form