View Practice Areas

Winter Weather Poses Hazards for Colorado Workers

There can be a lot of pressures placed on workers during the holiday season. There may be more demand for services and goods, which means that workers will be expected to complete these requests as soon as possible. Some companies may even bring in extra staff to help deal with the additional work, while other businesses may not have the resources available to expand the workforce.

While this time of the year is very profitable for many different industries, there also challenges that need to be addressed. In Colorado, the weather during the winter months can be very unpredictable. Those employees who have to perform any activities outdoors could find themselves facing an increased risk of accident, which may lead to requests for workers' compensation benefits if they suffer serious injuries.

Retailers will need to keep their workplaces free from snow and ice, not only to ensure the safety of their customers, but also for those employees who work there. Employees could have to carry goods into or out of the stores, and if there is snow or ice in high-traffic areas, this could increase the risk of a fall. This may lead to broken bones or serious back injuries, which can force the employee to miss time from work while receiving the treatment that they need to recover.

Other occupations will require employees to spend a significant amount of time outdoors.

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.

· Chilblains can occur when skin is exposed to temperatures that are milder (above freezing to 60 degrees) and causes damage to blood vessels, often on the face, toes and fingers. Damage can be permanent.

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 While on the Job

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.

Hazards of Snow Removal to Workers

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has provided a number of different resources on their site to help workers and employees understand some of the dangers associated with snow removal and tips on how to reduce the risk of injury or even death. But are snow removal accidents something to be concerned about?

According to OSHA, there have been a number of accidents and deaths that resulted during the snow removal process. Without protective measures, workers can slip or fall off of roofs. In some instances, a skylight may post an even greater problem for a worker.

Some of the causes of injuries snowblower accidents, lift collapses, suffocation under snow piles, electrocution and even hypothermia. But one of the more common accidents is ladder falls. In one accident, a worker had been removing snow off of a deck when he fell into an elevator shaft. The shaft had been covered with tarp. In another incident, a worker was removing snow from a roof. The ladder he was standing on slid on the ground causing the worker to fall and suffer a fatal head injury.

According to OSHA, many accidents due to snow removal could be prevented if workers have access to fall protection equipment. In addition employers should be making sure that roofs and structures can actually handle the additional weight of a worker after a heavy snow fall.

Avoiding Cold Stress Injuries This Winter

Certain occupations present a higher risk for cold stress injuries; however, workers can employ safety tips to limit exposure this winter season.

· Wear loose-layered clothing to insulate the body and promote circulation.

· Keep extremities adequately protected with warm outerwear and waterproof boots.

· Limit prolonged time in cold weather conditions and take breaks to warm up.

· Keep a first aid kit that includes extra warm dry gear and hot packs.

· Monitor your co-workers and be on the lookout for exposure symptoms.

Employers should also have safety measures in place to protect employees from cold-related occupational diseases. Some precautions may include reducing shift lengths in cold elements, providing warm shelters for breaks, giving workers training to prevent cold stress injuries and scheduling outdoor jobs during warmer months whenever possible.

Using Weather Experts to Prove your Work Injury

When someone mentions a meteorologist, the image that comes to mind is often a weather person on television. Typically meteorologists predict the weather so that people can plan ahead accordingly. But what most people don't know is that there is a group of meteorologists that look at the weather a little differently.

They're known as forensic meteorologists. Instead of predicting the weather, they look back into the past to determine what the weather was like at a specific time and place. Interestingly, attorneys and insurance companies use them to help sort out cases like car accidents and workers' compensation cases.

Forensic meteorologists have worked on cases all over the world, looking back to specific days when an accident occurred. They then testify in court or in a deposition to give their expert opinion whether the weather backs up the case presented.

For example, an employee sustains a serious back injury as a result of slipping and falling on ice at his work. His employer is arguing that there was no way there was ice on the ground that day. The forensic meteorologist would go back to that day and see what the weather was like to see if ice on the walkway was possible.

For an employee who was injured at work, this type of information can make the process of obtaining injury benefits a little easier. Often working with insurance companies can be time-consuming and complicated as they try to figure out exactly how the injury occurred. A forensic meteorologist would at least be able to determine one aspect of the accident.

Dealing with a Work Injury Caused by Weather

Injured workers can receive benefits from the Colorado workers' compensation system to cover their medical expenses and any expenses related to their recovery. In addition, partial or permanent disability benefits may also be available. Other benefits may be available if a worker is no longer able to perform the duties he or she was responsible for when the injury occurred. If a worker dies, his or her family may also apply for workers' compensation benefits to cover funeral and burial costs and a compensation package for the loss of their loved one's income.