Winter weather and cold temperatures can heighten the risks of working in New York, with cold stress being a lesser-known but potentially serious hazard. Cold stress happens when temperatures drop and the body has to work harder to maintain its normal level of warmth. When cold stress is not addressed, it can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, and other serious work injuries.
Protecting workers from the cold is critical
Precautions must be taken to ensure employees in construction, transportation, delivery, warehousing, maintenance, and other jobs can stay safe and maintain productivity when temperatures drop. This includes wearing appropriate head-to-toe winter gear, such as insulated clothing, gloves, and thermal footwear. Moreover, it’s essential to understand the cold’s impact on the body, including the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and reduced dexterity, and to recognize the signs of heat loss in oneself and colleagues.
Additionally, regular safety training should be an integral part of any organization’s cold-weather preparedness strategy. This training should cover topics like the importance of proper clothing layering, staying dry, and keeping active to maintain body heat. By implementing these precautions and promoting a culture of safety, employers can reduce the risk of cold stress injuries and ensure a safe and productive working environment during the winter months.
5 ways the cold affects your body
When temperatures drop, it can almost feel like the cold is “attacking” you. There are five primary ways that cold lowers internal heat:
1. Radiation: When temperatures drop, exposed skin becomes a primary source of heat loss as it radiates body heat. Workers in cold environments often experience a rapid sensation of cold due to this radiation.
2. Convection: Wind, technically a form of convection, exacerbates the cold sensation, particularly on windy days. It does this by displacing the warm air layer near the skin, making workers feel even colder than the actual temperature suggests.
3. Conduction: Heat loss through conduction occurs when workers come into contact with colder objects, such as metal tools or cold surfaces. This direct contact can quickly drain body heat.
4. Evaporation: While insulation may keep workers warm, it can lead to an unexpected risk during winter. The body’s natural response to cold is to start sweating inside insulated gear. However, this can increase the risk of cold stress, as the body loses heat through the process of evaporation.
5. Respiration: Inhaling bitterly cold air can be distracting for workers, diverting their attention and putting them at risk of heat loss. Cold air entering the respiratory system can lower the body’s core temperature, making it challenging to stay warm.
How to dress when working in the cold
Staying safe and warm while working in cold conditions is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. Whether employers provide insulated uniforms or offer stipends for personal winter gear, these tips can help:
- Tailored Insulation: Choose insulated workwear tailored to the specific environment. Workers with lower activity levels may need more insulation than those requiring greater flexibility to perform their tasks.
- Cover Exposed Areas: Ensure no skin is left exposed. Protect the neck, ears, and face from cold, wetness, and wind to prevent frostbite and discomfort.
- Layering Strategy: Embrace a layered clothing approach for flexibility. Include an inner layer to wick away sweat, a mid-layer for warmth, and an outer layer to shield against wind and wet conditions. Removing a layer when sweating can help workers stay dry and warm.
- Proper Fit: Opt for clothing that fits properly to avoid bulkiness or restricted mobility, allowing workers to perform their tasks comfortably.
- Hydration Matters: Prioritize hydration over caffeine to help the body operate efficiently, promoting maximum warmth and overall well-being.
- Caloric Intake: Consume more calories by eating more or opting for higher-calorie foods. The body expends additional energy to maintain temperature in the cold, making sufficient caloric intake essential.
- Recognize Cold Stress: If experiencing symptoms of cold stress, it’s crucial to exit the cold environment promptly. Recognizing these signs and taking appropriate action can prevent serious cold-related health issues.
Signs of cold stress on the job
Recognizing the signs of cold stress on the job is essential for the safety and well-being of workers. Familiarity with these indicators allows individuals to take prompt action to address the issue. If any of these signs are observed or experienced, seeking a warm environment is crucial. If symptoms persist or worsen, urgent medical attention should be sought. Here are the signs of cold stress:
- Shivering: An initial response to cold stress, shivering is the body’s attempt to generate heat by rapid muscle contractions. It’s a clear signal that the body is struggling to maintain its temperature.
- Fatigue: Feeling unusually tired or fatigued can be a sign of cold stress. The body expends extra energy to combat the cold, leading to increased weariness.
- Confusion: Cold stress can affect cognitive function, resulting in confusion or mental fog. Workers may find it challenging to concentrate or make decisions.
- Reduced Alertness or Delayed Reactions: Cold can slow down reflexes and reaction times, making it difficult to respond quickly to workplace hazards.
- Limited Mobility: Extreme cold can cause muscles and joints to stiffen, limiting mobility and making movement more challenging.
- Impaired Speech: Cold stress can affect speech patterns, leading to slurred or impaired speech.
- Cold Sensations: Workers may experience cold, tingling, stinging, or aching sensations in exposed areas of the body, which can progress to numbness as the cold intensifies.
- Skin Color Changes: Skin may become visibly white or pale due to reduced blood flow to the extremities, indicating that the body is prioritizing core temperature over extremities.
Cold stress can cause serious work-related injuries
While some employers may not take it seriously, cold stress is a significant concern that can lead to severe work-related injuries. At Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP in New York, we understand the gravity of cold stress and its potential impact on workers’ safety and well-being. Our team of dedicated work injury lawyers is here to advocate for those who have suffered cold-related injuries in the workplace.
We recognize that the consequences of cold stress can be debilitating, and our mission is to provide the legal support and representation needed to secure compensation for affected individuals. If you or a loved one has experienced work-related injuries due to cold stress, our experienced attorneys are ready to stand by your side and guide you through the legal process to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. To see how we can help with your potential legal case, contact us today for a free case evaluation.
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