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Workers in MN: Avoid serious illnesses caused by cold weather

As Minnesotans, we have all experienced our fair share of severe weather - heavy snowstorms and frigid temperatures are a regular experience during the winter months. Despite our familiarity with such temperatures, however, Minnesotans must continue to be vigilant and take precautions when dangerous winter weather strikes.

Some of those most at risk when the temperatures fall are workers who must perform many or all of their duties outside. For instance, construction workers, emergency response teams and certain law enforcement officers may be required to spend extended periods of time outside, despite dangerous weather conditions. In some cases, workers may not detect symptoms brought on by the cold temperatures until it is too late. Consequently, it is wise to be aware of the possible hazards and take the necessary steps to avoid illness and injury.

Dangers of working in cold weather in Minnesota

Workers in Minnesota are susceptible to a variety of illnesses when performing duties outside in the winter. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the most common crises caused by cold weather are:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Trench foot

Hypothermia is particularly dangerous because it often goes unnoticed for some time. When an individual's body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothermia begins to set in. As the initial symptoms involve cognitive impairment, it is not unusual for them to be overlooked. Other common symptoms include fatigue, clumsiness and shivering.

Frostbite occurs when a body part freezes, leading to tissue damage. If the damage is severe enough, the body part may not be able to be saved and must be amputated. Certain parts of the body are more prone to frostbite than others, including:

  • Fingers
  • Toes
  • Ears
  • Nose

When a worker suffers from frostbite, it is best to wrap the affected part of the body with a cloth and quickly get the worker to a warm location.

Trench foot occurs when a worker's feet are cold and wet for a long period of time. Trench foot is comparable to frostbite, but can occur at much higher temperatures.

Take precautions to prevent cold weather injuries and illnesses

When workers are required to be outside in severe temperatures, employers should ensure their workers are properly protected from the elements. It is advisable for workers to wear multiple layers of clothing to combat the cold. In addition, workers should always wear a hat, gloves and waterproof shoes.

With the added gear, however, comes the risk of it impeding an individual's field of vision and ability to move. Consequently, employers must ensure the warm weather gear provided is sufficient to protect workers from the weather, while still allowing them to safely perform their job duties.

If you have suffered an illness or injury while on the job in cold weather, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Consulting with a skilled, Minnesota workers' compensation attorney will ensure your rights are protected.