Winter in the Midwest is unpredictable. The sun might be shining one day, only for inches of snow to cover the ground the next. One thing for certain every year is the possibility of winter weather injuries while on the job. Construction workers, mail delivery personnel, first responders, delivery drivers and truck drivers are commonly exposed to slippery conditions that can lead to severe injuries.
Common Winter Weather Injuries
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that employers protect their workers from cold-weather hazards. When employers fail to do so, injuries can occur that could send employees to the hospital, creating thousands in medical bills and potentially keeping them out of work.
Common injuries include:
- Frostbite. Frostbite is the freezing of skin and tissues. Often resulting from poor circulation or improper layering of clothing in cold weather, frostbite usually impacts appendages such as fingers, toes, earlobes and the nose. If the freezing is severe, frostbite can require amputation.
- Hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when your body drops to abnormally low temperatures, typically below 95°F. When exposed to cold weather, the body exhausts heat sources faster than it can replenish it. This results in slowed functioning of the body’s organ systems. Symptoms often include slowed heart rate, slurred speech and unconsciousness.
- Trench foot. Trench foot is a non-freezing foot injury that occurs when your feet are wet for an extended period of time. In the winter, this is typically caused by improper footwear that allows snow and slush to enter. Feet lose heat 25% faster than the rest of your body, so it’s important to protect them from the elements.
- Slip and fall. Slips and falls are common in the winter months due to snow and ice on the ground. These accidents commonly result in broken bones, sprains and even head injuries.
Other common causes of winter injuries on the job include using power tools like snow blowers and overexertion from activities like snow shoveling. In addition, workers with pre-existing conditions like heart problems or poor circulation may have exacerbated reactions to winter weather. All of these injuries and conditions have the potential to put someone out of work.
Tips to Avoid Winter Weather Injury
While it is ultimately your employer’s responsibility to protect you from exposure to extreme conditions, there are steps you can take to limit your risk of severe injury. This includes wearing proper attire such as coats, dry socks and waterproof boots. You should also be cautious of your surroundings when working outside by keeping an eye on the ground for ice and avoiding carrying items in your arms so you can stabilize yourself in the case of a fall. Drinking warm liquids such as coffee, hot chocolate or tea may also help maintain your body temperature while working outside.
Identifying When You Have a Claim
In most cases, the criteria for filing a Workers’ Compensation claim are simple. Workers’ Compensation in Missouri is a state-mandated, “no-fault” insurance system that will pay injured employees for their medical costs, lost wages and any costs associated with permanent disability. For a winter-related injury, the employee must be able to prove that they were injured at work while being exposed to the elements.
As we’ve learned over the years, no two Workers’ Compensation cases are the same. We always recommend you first consult a lawyer to determine if you have a viable claim. For more information on Casey, Devoti & Brockland and resources on work-related personal injuries, visit our Workers’ Compensation blog.