Can I File a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Frostbite Injuries at Work?
You know what cold feels like. The longer you’re outside, the more your body responds to the frigid temperatures and tries to retain its heat. You may experience muscle shivers, the hair on your skin rising, and uncontrollable teeth chattering. Hopefully, when you experience that, you can get to a warmer location quickly. But what happens when you have to work in those conditions, and you’re stuck outside? If you don’t warm up soon enough, you could develop frostbite.
If you’re working in extremely cold temperatures and you sustain frostbite, you may have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim to seek recovery for your injuries and any time away from work. Frostbite is often a much more serious condition than people realize, and it needs to be treated quickly and efficiently to avoid any long-term damage.
The Dangers of Working in Winter Weather
Working outside in the wintertime can be brutal, especially if you need to be out in a snowstorm. The human body isn’t meant to withstand certain temperatures, and injuries are possible if you’re exposed to the cold for too long. The risk of developing frostbite increases as the temperature falls below 5 F. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.
The most at-risk for developing frostbite on the job includes police officers, firefighters, baggage handlers, construction crews, and recreational workers.
Stages of Frostbite
Frostbite occurs when the skin and underlying tissues freeze. Cold-weather conditions are the most common cause. Specific factors that lead to frostbite include wearing unsuitable clothes for the conditions, staying out in the cold for too long, and touching materials like ice or frozen metal. The longer exposure to the cold occurs, the worse frostbite can get.
- Frostnip. This is the mildest form of frostbite. While frostnip doesn’t permanently damage the skin, it can lead to numbness and pain and tingling as the skin warms up.
- Superficial Frostbite. As frostbite starts to set in, it’s on top of the skin—it appears red and turns pale. If you begin to feel warm, additional layers of the skin are becoming affected. As the skin rewarms, it may appear mottled. Stinging, burning, and swelling are common, as are fluid-filled blisters.
- Deep Frostbite. As the frostbite affects more layers of skin, the exposed skin turns white or blueish gray. Numbness, loss of sensation to the cold, and pain are possible. Joints and muscles may no longer work, and large blisters will appear 24 to 48 hours later. After, the area turns black and hard as the tissue dies.
If you’re experiencing signs of frostnip, it’s important to get inside and warm up as soon as possible. If you think you’ve entered into superficial or deep frostbite, seek medical attention. If the condition isn’t treated, hypothermia could set in—which is when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced.
Frostbite Prevention Tips
While your employer should inform you of the proper ways to stay safe in the cold if you regularly work in inclement weather, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting an injury. While you may not always be able to limit the time you spend in the cold, try to regularly take breaks somewhere warm. Allowing your skin to warm up reduces your risk of serious damage.
In regard to clothing, it’s best to dress in several layers of loose, warm clothing. The air that gets trapped between the layers acts as insulation. This also allows you to change out of wet clothing while remaining covered more efficiently. You should always wear a hat that fully covers your ears, and it’s better to wear mittens than gloves.
As you’re working, be sure to stay hydrated and keep moving. The elevated blood flow will help you stay warm. If at any point you feel ill or like you’ve developing frostbite, get to somewhere warm and stay there.
Understanding an Employer’s Responsibilities in Illinois
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have a duty to protect workers from cold stress hazards. Under the law, employers are required to train workers on how to recognize the symptoms of conditions like frostbite, how to prevent it, and what to do to help those who are affected. Employers should also inform their workers of how to properly select clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
In addition to those duties, employers should keep an eye on workers’ physical conditions, schedule frequent breaks in warm areas, plan work for the warmest part of the day, and provide warm beverages and engineering controls like radiant heaters.
Because your employer has a responsibility to help protect you from the cold, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim in the event you develop frostbite on the job. Depending on the degree of injury, recovery can take time and inhibit a person’s ability to work. If you qualify, workers’ compensation benefits can help you stay afloat financially until you can get back to work.
If you’ve been injured at work, filing a claim can seem intimidating. You may be worried about backlash from your employer or what will happen if you need to take time off work. Fortunately, there are laws that protect your job and provide you with the benefits you need to recover and get your life back in order. An experienced lawyer from Schweickert Ganassin Krzak Rundio, LLP can guide you through the process. Contact us today for more information.