Employers in Pennsylvania have an obligation to protect their workers from severe temperature exposure which can lead to cold stress.
For outdoor workers in Philadelphia, the arrival of winter brings unique challenges since they are often exposed to lower temperatures, ice, cold water and wind chills. If workers are unprepared, they can be at a higher risk for a condition referred to as cold stress.
Cold stress is caused by the inability of the body to maintain internal heat, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. When the outside temperature drops, the body has to work harder to stay warm and focuses on the core of the body – the chest and abdomen. Due to this focus, the body’s system will literally pull heat from other extremities, like the hands and feet. This is why people often get cold in these areas first. In extreme cold or wet conditions, the body loses more heat than it can produce, sending the person’s internal temperature down to a dangerous level.
While severe conditions will put people at a higher risk for cold stress, there can be other contributing factors. For example, if a sanitation worker has diabetes or struggles with blood circulation issues, the worker will be at a higher risk than someone who is in excellent health. Lack of protective clothing and exhaustion on the part of workers may also raise their risk for cold stress.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to severe cold. These include the following:
Another issue that can occur is trench foot, which can cause permanent injury. This condition is identified through symptoms that include swelling, gangrene, numbness, under skin bleeding, tingling pain and cramps in the leg. Trench foot can lead to the loss of the foot if it is not identified early.
OSHA states that employers have a responsibility to protect workers from harm. Workers who will be exposed to severe weather and conditions should be educated on how to recognize the warning symptoms of cold stress and what to do when someone shows signs of illness. Additionally, employers should make sure that their workers are dressed appropriately for the conditions. Protective clothing can include a knit mask, insulated gloves, three layers of loose fitting clothing to increase a body’s insulation, hat, and boots that are waterproof and insulated.
Pennsylvanian workers who suffer an illness while performing their duties may be eligible for Workers’ Compensation. The guidelines concerning the submitting of a claim and providing proof can be complicated so they may find it beneficial to speak with a Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation attorney. Call the law offices of Jeffrey S. Gross at 1-215-512-1500 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.