For some workers, cold weather only affects them during their commute to the office and when traveling back home again. However, for those who work outdoors in the winter (construction workers, first responders, utility workers, delivery drivers, etc.), cold weather is an ever-present part of their day. The clothes they wear need to keep them warm for hours at a time, not just for those few minutes it takes to walk from the car into an indoor workplace.
Working in the cold puts you at risk for a wide variety of injuries, some of which might be life-threatening. It is only natural to wonder if these injuries are covered by Wisconsin’s worker’s compensation system.
Below, learn more about worker’s compensation eligibility, including for injuries that are caused by exposure to cold weather.
Jobs That Put Workers at Risk During the Colder Months
There are many jobs essential to our society that require people to spend long hours outside, exposed to the elements. This includes, but is certainly not limited to:
- Commercial and residential construction workers
- Utility workers
- First responders (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians)
- Snow cleanup crews
- Delivery drivers
- Airport employees
- Farmers and agricultural workers
While we need people working in these industries, they are putting themselves at great risk.
Worker’s Compensation Eligibility
The important thing to remember is that it often does not matter what or who caused the injury. If you were doing your job and got hurt, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation, including coverage of all reasonable and necessary medical expenses and wage loss benefits, even if the injury was your fault.
However, it is important to note worker’s compensation insurance companies and employers are always looking for a reason to get out of providing benefits. They may claim you suffered a cold-related injury because of a preexisting medical condition, such as high blood pressure, hypothyroidism or diabetes.
If you are confronted with this issue, you should strongly consider meeting with one of our licensed worker’s compensation attorneys in Green Bay to learn more about your potential legal options.
Cold Weather Injuries and Illnesses
Some common injuries/illnesses people are at risk for when working outdoors in the cold include:
When a person suffers cold stress, his or her body is struggling to maintain its normal temperature. Victims often shiver because blood is rushing to the chest and abdomen and away from the extremities. Treating this condition often involves wrapping the person in a warm blanket or putting him or her next to a radiant heat source.
When a person has abnormally low body temperature, he or she may exhibit these common symptoms associated with hypothermia, including:
- Slurring words
- Loss of coordination
- Blue skin
- Shallow breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
If this goes untreated, the victim is likely to become unconscious and the injury could be fatal. This condition is treated by removing wet clothing and shoes and socks and covering the body with layers of blankets or towels to try to restore the body’s usual temperature.
Frostnip is not permanent, while frostbite is. Frostnip occurs when there is mild freezing of the top layers of the skin. Frostbite happens when the skin freezes, causing ice crystals to form between cells. Your toes, fingers, cheeks and nose are particularly prone to frostbite. Common signs of frostbite include numbness, tingling, aching and bluish skin.
Fortunately, you may recover from a mild case of frostbite if you act quickly. For example, get inside quickly, put the affected area in warm water, and remove any clothing that could restrict circulation.
If you are in the cold for a long period of time (between three and 12 hours), you may suffer trench/immersion foot. The loss of heat causes blood vessels to constrict and shuts down circulation to the feet. The lack of oxygen may cause skin cells to die.
Those suffering from trench/immersion foot may experience:
- Leg cramps
- Bleeding under the skin
If any of these symptoms present themselves, dry your feet by removing socks and shoes.
Protecting Yourself From the Cold
There are many steps workers can take to protect themselves from cold weather. For example, wearing layers of cold-weather clothing helps to retain body heat and keep water away. Wool, silk and many synthetic fabrics keep their insulating properties even when wet.
Having extra clothing on hand can also be beneficial, just in case the clothes you have on become too wet or cold.
Another practical tip people may not think of is to stay hydrated and consume enough calories to keep your energy up. If you are wearing heavy, protective clothing, you are likely going to need 10 to 15 percent more calories than those working indoors or in warmer climates.
Call Today for Help With Your Worker’s Comp Claim
Sigman Janssen has helped many workers’ recover benefits after suffering a workplace injury over the years. If you have any questions concerning your rights as an injured employee in Wisconsin and eligibility for benefits, give us a call today. The initial consultation is 100 percent free of charge and comes with no obligation to take legal action. We do not get paid unless you get paid.
We are here to help. Learn more by calling (877) 888-5201.