How workers can avoid weather-related injuries during winter

Working outdoors during the Minnesota winters can be not only arduous but also dangerous to one's health. Freezing temperatures often lead to cold stress injuries as well as conditions like hypothermia and frostbite. Even in relatively higher temperatures, workers can be at risk for trench foot and chilblains.

There are several ways for workers to protect themselves. First, they should wear layered clothing. This will allow them to remove layers when temperatures rise and comfortably put on personal protective equipment. The fabric should be breathable; otherwise, perspiration will develop. Gloves and boots should be insulated and waterproof.

Workers should also monitor each other and be able to identify signs of cold stress. Frostbitten skin, for example, will be blistered and have a white or grayish-yellow appearance. Hypothermia can lead to slowed breathing, memory loss and slurred speech. Workers should contact emergency personnel when a fellow worker starts to feel chest pain.

Employers must do their part by setting up a buddy system whenever possible, maintaining communication with each worker and providing a warm, dry shelter. Ideally, workers who spend a whole day outdoors in freezing temperatures should have a 15-minute break every hour. If possible, employees should also work during the warmest part of each day.

Victims of cold-related injuries at work can be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. All they have to do is report their injuries to the employer and file the right paperwork. To make sure that they receive the maximum benefits, they may want to seek legal assistance. Insurance companies will sometimes find ways to deny victims a settlement, which is why it's important to have a lawyer handling any negotiations. Other times, an insurance company may discontinue benefits for ongoing medical care or future lost income; however, a lawyer can contest the decision.

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