Winter is coming, but in Colorado that doesn't mean that things will be slowing down. Even though the temperatures will drop and the snow will fly, workers will continue to be outside doing their jobs.
Still, working in during the winter comes with some risks, even for the hardiest outdoor laborers. Exposure to cold weather and slippery conditions has the potential to cause injuries that result in permanent disability. As such, all workers can benefit from reviewing some winter-weather safety tips before the season kicks off into full swing.
Work-Related Cold Stress Injuries
Colorado workers who spend a significant amount of time outdoors during the winter are at risk of experiencing cold stress injuries. The risk of injury is particularly acute for workers whose jobs require them to perform physical labor in unheated or unsheltered conditions.
Some of the most common types of cold stress injuries include the following:
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when a worker's body loses heat faster than it can warm itself. As a result, the worker's body temperature becomes abnormally low, leading to confusion and loss of coordination. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous because its slow onset means that workers often do not notice they are in trouble until it is too late.
- Frostbite: Frostbite is caused by the freezing of skin. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent tissue damage and even amputation. Early-stage frostbite is characterized by numbness and tingling, while more serious frostbite involves skin discoloration.
- Trench foot: Trench foot results from exposure to wet and cold conditions. Like frostbite, it can cause serious and permanent tissue damage. The risk of trench foot is present even at temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
All workers should make an effort to monitor themselves and their colleagues for cold stress injuries. Seeking shelter and treating the injury early can go a long way toward reducing the risk of permanent harm. In addition, wearing appropriate clothing and taking indoor breaks can help prevent cold stress injuries from occurring.
Winter Weather Car Accidents
Car accidents are another major source of wintertime workers' compensation injuries. Slippery roads and poor visibility are contributing factors in many wintertime car crashes. Keeping the following safety tips in mind can help workers avoid winter weather driving accidents:
- Before driving a new vehicle, check to make sure that the lights, wipers, brakes and defrosters are in good working condition
- Always remove frost and condensation from windows before driving
- Regularly examine tires to make sure they have good tread and adequate air pressure
- Always keep at least a quarter tank of gas in the vehicle
- Drive at reduced speeds whenever conditions are slippery or visibility is low
In addition, all vehicles should be stocked with winter safety kits that can help keep drivers safe in case they get stranded. At a minimum, the kit should include warm clothes, a flashlight or candles, hand warmers, water and non-perishable food. It is also a good idea to keep vehicles stocked with extra cellphone or walkie-talkie batteries.