Minnesotans take pride in their ability to navigate the winters here. There are heavy snowstorms and roads with patches of black ice, but there is nothing more dangerous than the subzero temperatures we face. Common sense will often prompt the average person to stay indoors or go out for shorter periods, but some need to work outside even in the winter. For instance, construction workers, law enforcement, emergency responders, and even those working on a Christmas Tree lot may work regardless of how cold and dangerous the conditions are.
We know that we need to dress for the weather, but people will misjudge the temperature or not detect dangers until it is too late. This can lead to illness, severe injury or even death in rare cases.
Common dangers of working outside in the winter
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cites the following as the most common dangers in cold weather:
- Hypothermia – Once the body temperature falls below 95 degrees, the worker suffers hypothermia. Severe symptoms include dilated pupils, loss of coordination, a slowing of breathing or pulse, and loss of consciousness.
- Frostbite – This happens when the skin or underlying tissue freezes. Severe symptoms include grey and white patches on skin, numbness, or skin that feels hard.
- Trench Foot – This can occur in temperatures as warm as 60 degrees. The symptoms are due to consistently wet feet and include redness of skin, blisters, numbness, or swelling.
Preventing cold stress
While workers should be careful on the job, employers should take efforts to keep workers safe. According to OSHA, effective ways to do this include:
- Educate management and staff: Everyone should be able to recognize symptoms and know how to treat them at least until medical help arrives.
- Provide break rooms or relief from the elements: Employers should provide places to warm up, shelters to reduce the wind and other precautions.
- Use safe work practices: Employers should offer more breaks and let workers take one if they feel discomfort, serve warm drinks that rehydrate, let new workers acclimatize to the conditions to build a tolerance and understanding of the weather conditions.
Dangers sometimes avoidable
Sometimes coworkers or employers do not exercise proper levels of caution. This can lead to an increased likelihood of severe injury. The first order of business is to get necessary medical help, but workers may also need to contact an attorney who has personal injury experience here in Minnesota.