Temperatures in Pittsburgh may be below freezing for the next few months, and if your job has you working outside, you will be at risk of suffering cold stress. Are you ready for it? Did you know that exposed skin can freeze, causing frostbite in temperatures of 28 degrees Fahrenheit? You might not think that is unusually cold, but if you remain outside, blood clots can form. Additionally, deep frostbite could cause gangrene, which might lead to amputations. Hypothermia develops if your body loses temperature faster than it can produce heat, and that loss of temperature can start even before the weather turns particularly nasty. If you feel lightheaded and confused, look out for the other symptoms like profuse sweating, nausea and fatigue. That is when you should get inside as soon as possible because hypothermia is a potentially fatal condition.
Prepare for working outdoors
Safety authorities say hundreds of workers — including in Pennsylvania — succumb to hypothermia each year. Although your employer is responsible for your safety and health, it might be wise to take your own precautions. You can start with your clothing, keeping in mind the following aspects:
- Entanglement hazards: A scarf or a muffler might seem ideal to keep your neck warm at work, but it could be life threatening if you work around machines that could catch scarves, dangling drawstrings and loose sleeves in the rotating parts.
- Dress in layers: A single layer of thick, heavy clothing will not keep you as warm as several layers of lightweight clothing because you can remove layers to prevent excessive sweating. Clothing wet from perspiration will not keep you warm and might even cause hypothermia.
- Gloves: When you choose gloves, make sure they provide enough warmth to prevent frostbite but are not thick enough to hamper your ability to manipulate controls and handle tools safely. Excessive strain on your wrists because your gloves make it hard to hold or handle objects can cause a repetitive strain injury.
- Hats: Keep in mind that your head needs covering too. You can prevent heat loss by wearing a hat and earmuffs that can also protect your ears, which are exceptionally vulnerable to frostbite.
- Footwear: Slip-and-fall accidents are some of the most prevalent causes of workplace injuries in the winter. Check the soles of your boots or shoes to make sure they have adequate tread, and if they have non-slip characteristics, it’s even better.
- Eyewear: Safety glasses can only provide protection when they cover your eyes, and if they fog up, you have to remove them and expose your eyes. Make sure to choose glasses with anti-fog lenses along with anti-fog wipes for cleaning them.
- Prevent overexertion: Working in cold weather takes more energy, which can cause overexertion. Make sure you get enough rest and pace yourself when you shovel snow or lift heavy objects to avoid putting too much strain on your heart.
- Eat the right foods: Winter-weight meals that contain enough nutrients and calories to provide the necessary energy are crucial.
If you take care of these aspects, and your employer adapts work schedules to limit the time you spend outdoors, you can escape the perils of cold stress.
However, many employers are so focused on profits that employee safety slips their minds. If you should suffer any work-related injuries this winter, the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation program may pay for your medical expenses and provide a wage-replacement package for the time you are unable to work. Further assistance is available from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can guide you through the benefits claims process.