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Occupational disease: The hazards of outdoor work in winter

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2016 | Firm News, Workers' Compensation

Winter weather in Colorado can hold many dangers for workers who spend most of their working hours outside. Exposure to extreme cold can cause occupational disease and injuries that could be life threatening. One of the most severe results of exposure is hypothermia, and the seriousness of the condition depends on the amount of time the worker was exposed. When an employee’s body temperature drops below a certain level, it affects the victim’s brain, in turn affecting his or her ability to focus and move properly.

Freezing of body tissue leads to frostbite that can cause permanent damage and may even lead result in amputation. The parts of the body that are mostly affected by this type of injury include toes, fingers, ears, nose, chin and cheeks. Trench foot is another serious condition that exposure to wet and cold conditions can bring about. Workers who stand in wet areas loose heat through their feet at an enormous rate. Skin tissue dies because the body stops blood flow to the feet to prevent the loss of heat.

Chilblains are blister-like sores that are also caused by frequent exposure to temperatures that are slightly higher than freezing. The repeated coldness of the skin damages blood vessels called capillary beds – mostly on ears, cheeks, toes and fingers. It causes itching and redness that are permanent. Business owners in industries in which employees work outside must warn their workers of the dangers and ensure they know the dangers signs and symptoms of these conditions. Warm areas and emergency treatment must be available for all workers.

Any Colorado worker who is a victim of a cold weather-related occupational disease or injury may want to seek immediate treatment to prevent severe complications. The expenses related to medical treatment is compensable through the workers’ compensation insurance system. When benefits claims are filed, the insurance program usually includes a wage-replacement package to assist workers whose illnesses or injuries prevent them from immediately going back to work.

Source: cdc.gov, “Cold Stress – Cold Related Illnesses“, Dec. 10, 2016

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