The last couple weeks here in Minnesota have been cold! While we Minnesotans think of ourselves as a hardy breed of people able to tolerate the cold, even the toughest among us need to take precautions to stay warm and safe during the cold winter weather.
Minnesota workers who have jobs that require them to be outside, such as road workers, construction workers, firefighters, police officers, paramedics, electrical workers, and laborers should be mindful of the hazards of cold weather work. These individuals should be aware of ways to prevent cold weather injuries. Cold stress can occur when the body is unable to warm itself. It can lead to tissue damage and possibly even death. Factors that can contribute to cold stress include:
1) Cold air temperatures
2) High velocity air movement (wind chill)
3) Air moisture
4) Contact with cold water or surfaces
A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. The most common types of injuries and illnesses that occur due to cold stress are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.
Hypothermia occurs when body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced. Shivering may begin with your body’s natural attempt to generate body heat. As hypothermia worsens, workers may begin to lose coordination, experience slurred speech, and fumble with hand tools. Skin becomes cold and pale. As body temperature drops, symptoms will worsen and shivering stops. If body temperature drops below 85°F, severe hypothermia will develop, and the person may lose consciousness. At 78°F, death can occur.
Frostbite occurs when the skin freezes. Usually the extremities are affected, including fingers, toes, hands, and feet. Exposed areas of the face can also be affected. The individual will experience cold, tingling, stinging, or aching, followed by numbness. The affected skin will turn red, then purple, then white, and is cold to the touch, and in severe cases, blisters can develop. In the most extreme cases, amputation of the fingers, toes, feet, ears or even facial tissue may be required.
Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is caused when feet are immersed in water at cold temperatures for long periods of time. Symptoms are similar to frostbite, but are usually less severe. Firefighters are very much at risk for this condition.
Minnesota workers exposed to cold outdoor temperatures should take precautions to avoid illness or injury, including:
• Wearing multiple layers, including an outer layer that is wind resistant, a middle layer that will absorb sweat and provide insulation, and a base layer that allows ventilation.
• Wear a hat to avoid the loss of body heat from an unprotected head. Police officers should consider wearing hats that also cover their ears.
• Keep an extra change of clothing. If work clothes become wet, change into dry clothes.
• Wear loose clothing to allow better ventilation.
Cold weather injuries that require medical attention are covered for purposes of Minnesota workers’ compensation and an experienced work comp attorney will make sure that you receive all the benefits you deserve. If you’ve sustained a cold weather injury that required medical attention, you may be eligible for medical expense benefits. If you miss work as a result of a cold exposure injury, you may be entitled to wage loss benefits. If you sustained a permanent injury as a result of cold exposure, you may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits. If you are permanently disabled from performing your regular job as the result of a cold injury, you may be eligible for rehabilitation and/or retraining benefits.
While minor cold exposure injuries are a fact of life in Minnesota, thankfully, severe, debilitating work-related cold exposure injuries seem to be relatively uncommon. When they do occur, however, they can be devastating. Our firm represented a young man who sustained severe frostbite to his feet while working an outdoor job. As a result, he suffered from severe pain, blistering, discoloration, and cold hyper-sensitivity. He suffered significant nerve and vascular damage to both feet. Even minor exposure to cold temperatures placed this young man at risk for further damage, which could result in amputation of his toes or feet. Given the extent and severity of his cold sensitivity, he was instructed by his doctors to move to a warmer climate. Jen Yackley of Meuser Law Office, P.A., recently procured an exceptional settlement of $225,000 on this young man’s case.
If you’re a Minnesota worker who has sustained a work-related cold exposure injury that has resulted in significant medical care, or time off work, a Minnesota workers’ compensation lawyer can help you through the complex workers’ compensation system. For a free, no-obligation workers’ compensation case consultation, call Meuser Law Office, P.A., at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.