Winters in Portland and across Oregon are typically frigid, and although rain is more likely than snow, cold stress remains a significant occupational hazard. If you work in construction, agriculture, or even if your job has you spending hours in freezers, your life may be on the line. Do not lose sight of the fact that cold stress-related conditions can cause amputations or even death, although it is entirely preventable.
Although your employer is responsible for your health and safety, there is a whole lot you can do to stay safe this winter. It all starts with gaining knowledge about the different hazards and learning how to recognize symptoms of cold stress and what do if you notice red flags in yourself or a co-worker.
Common types of cold stress
When your body loses heat faster than what it can replace it, your body will use the available heat to protect your vital organs, thereby starving your extremities of blood. Your condition will become critical if your body cannot produce enough heat to protect your vital organs. Keep a lookout for the following in yourself and your co-workers.
This happens when body tissues in your hands, feet, nose and ears freeze, and it could lead to amputation. Even when temperatures are not below freezing, wind chill can cause frostbite. Symptoms include the following:
- The affected body parts can feel numb and hard or firmer than usual.
- Look for redness of the skin, and white or gray patches can develop.
- Blisters might form on the affected areas.
If your body temperature drops from the normal 98.6 degrees to below 95 degrees, the following symptoms could follow:
- Although often deemed insignificant, shivering can be an early warning sign of hypothermia.
- As the condition deteriorates, you might stop shivering but experience slurred speech and confusion. When your breathing and heart rate slows, you could lose consciousness and, without emergency treatment, you could die.
This condition is also called immersion foot, and it does not necessarily involve freezing. If you work in an environment in which your feet are cold and wet for extended periods, you might notice the following symptoms:
- Even in air temperatures of 60 degrees, constantly wet feet are at risk of trench foot.
- Look out for numbness in your feet, along with swelling, redness and blisters.
Once you know the red flags that indicate the start of a cold stress-related condition, you can familiarize yourself with the steps to take to prevent amputations, unconsciousness and death.
Regardless of the precautions you take, you could still be a victim of hypothermia, trench foot or frostbite. If that happens, you could land up in the hospital and miss workdays. Fortunately, the Oregon workers’ compensation system will have your back. An attorney who has experience in helping injured workers to get compensation for medical expenses and lost wages can provide the necessary support and guidance while you focus on recovery and getting back to work.