A recent NBC New York report indicated that 911 calls for slips and falls on icy pavement have surged in recent weeks.
Then there were reports that falling ice from One World Trade Center led to the closure of several bustling streets nearby. And, of course, car accidents are more common when the roadway surfaces are slick.
For workers who must endure these cold, icy conditions, the risk of injury increases the longer they are exposed and the fewer precautions employers take.
The New York workers’ compensation lawyers at the law firm of Pasternack, Tilker, Zielger, Walsh, Stanton & Romano, LLP know that for so many workers, the cold is more than an unpleasant inconvenience. It can be downright dangerous.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the top forms of cold stress (or cold-related injuries) are:
- Trench Foot
- Cold water immersion
Any of these can have life-altering or even life-threatening consequences. Those workers at high risk include those who work outdoors, but also those who toil in areas that are poorly insulated or without heat.
Let’s start with hypothermia. This condition occurs when your body is exposed to cold for a prolonged period, such that your body’s stored energy has been used up and your body temperature begins to fall below normal. A person whose body temperature falls too low will begin to suffer brain impairment, which could result in an inability to move well or think clearly. For this reason, hypothermia can be especially dangerous because the person may not realize what’s happening or, even if he does, may be powerless to do much about it.
Then there is frostbite. You’ll know you’re suffering from frostbite if you are exposed to the cold and begin to lose feeling in the affected areas, most typically the fingers, toes, chin, cheeks, nose and ears. This can cause permanent tissue damage, and may even necessitate amputation. Workers with poor circulation or who aren’t dressed properly are at especially high risk for developing frost bite.
Trench foot, which is also sometimes called “immersion foot,” is a type of injury that stems from extended exposure to wet, cold conditions. When your feet are wet, they lose heat 25 percent faster than when they are dry. This condition can occur when it’s as warm as 60 degrees, as long as the feet are constantly wet. It’s the result of your body’s effort to prevent heat loss. Blood vessels are constricted, which therefore deprives the feet of oxygen. Skin tissue dies, because of a lack of oxygen. Toxic byproducts build up. The result could be simple leg cramps or swelling, or it could escalate to painful blisters, bleeding or even gangrene.
Cold water immersion is similar to hypothermia, except it involves immersion in water. Survival of those who become immersed in water during cold weather can be bolstered by wearing the right clothing and having access to a flotation device and a means of signaling rescuers, such as whistles, flares or strobe lights.
Finally, workers in cold conditions are at risk for developing chilblains. This condition occurs when the cold damages capillaries in the skin. The damage is permanent, and any additional exposure to cold in the future will result in itching and redness. Affected areas are usually the toes, fingers, cheeks and ears.
To minimize these risks for workers, the CDC recommends that employers schedule outdoor, cold jobs for the warmer parts of the day. Physical demands upon workers should be reduced, and employees should be offered warm liquids, warm break areas and protective equipment.
If you have suffered a New York workplace injury, contact the Law Offices of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP today by calling (800) 692-3717 or by visiting www.workerslaw.com.