December 15, 2017 • Workers' Compensation
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, cold stress can be a serious problem for workers and employers have an obligation to provide protection from this hazard. While there are no OSHA guidelines directly addressing employer obligations in cold environments, employers have a general duty to protect workers from risks likely to cause death or serious physical injury and OSHA indicates that prevention cold stress falls within this general obligation.
If a worker suffers cold-related injuries due to winter weather conditions, the injured employee can take action. New York City workers’ compensation lawyers can help employees harmed by cold to make a benefits claim under workers’ compensation laws to get their medical bills covered and receive disability income if necessary.
OSHA indicates that cold stress can occur any time workers are performing their work tasks in near-freezing temperatures. Certain risk factors also increase the likelihood that employees will have an adverse health reaction to the cold. These factors include wetness or dampness; pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes or hypothyroidism; or worker exhaustion.
If the body becomes unable to warm itself in cases of extreme cold, workers could experience permanent tissue damage, serious injuries, and even death. Frostbite, trench foot, and hypothermia are possible results of cold stress. Trench foot can occur due to prolonged exposure to cold, wet conditions and could even occur when temperatures are as warm as 60 degrees. Frostbite is caused when skin and tissues freeze, and it can lead to amputation. Hypothermia occurs if the body temperature drops to 95 degrees or less and it can be fatal.
Employers can prevent workers from suffering dangerous injuries due to cold weather by providing adequate training on how to work in the cold. This includes instructing workers on how to recognize and respond to workplace conditions likely to result in cold stress. Employers should also provide training on how to dress appropriately for dangerous weather conditions and, if necessary, should provide cold weather gear to workers doing their jobs outdoors.
Employees also have a role to plan in preventing cold stress. OSHA has several recommendations for employees including carefully monitoring their physical condition while at work; taking frequent short breaks in warm areas in order to provide time for the body to warm up; working in pairs so workers can watch out for each other; and scheduling outdoor work during the warmest parts of the day whenever it is possible to do so. Workers should also drink warm, sweet beverages while working outdoors in the cold but should avoid beverages with alcohol.
OSHA indicates employers should support these efforts with scheduling breaks, setting work schedules, and providing warm beverages to workers when appropriate. Regardless of the steps employers take to try to prevent cold-related injuries, however, workers compensation laws mandate that employees are entitled to benefits if they are hurt while doing their job tasks. This means any employee who experiences injuries related to cold stress should reach out to New York City workers’ compensation lawyers to find out about options for pursuing a claim for benefits through the workers’ compensation system.