Cold Injuries

Cold Injuries and Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation

With cold weather coming, Pennsylvania workers may be exposed to frigid conditions that can result in cold stress related injuries. However, even workers in warm climates or who work indoors can suffer cold stress injuries. Luckily, many of these are covered by workers’ compensation.

How Cold Stress Injuries Occur

Cold stress injuries occur when you are exposed to extreme cold or have repeated exposure to freezing or near freezing conditions. This exposure can lead to any of the following four cold-related occupational diseases. They are:

Hypothermia

This condition is found in workers whose body temperature becomes unusually low, generally under 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers afflicted with hypothermia cannot think clearly, can lose consciousness, and in some cases the effects can be fatal.

Frostbite

When body parts are exposed to extreme cold they can literally freeze. Their tissue crystallizes, which can cause permanent damage. Often, fingers or toes and sometimes entire limbs need to be amputated.

Trench Foot

Trench foot is also known immersion foot and occurs when the workers' feet are cold and wet for extended time periods. This condition was rampant during World War I on both sides, a side effect of trench warfare. This is how the condition was named. Trench foot causes disruption in blood circulation to the feet and often causes skin tissue to die. If not treated promptly, trench foot can lead to gangrene and amputation of a foot may be required.

Even workers in temperate climates can suffer from trench foot. Following Hurricane Katrina workers in New Orleans involved in cleanup were exposed to long periods of work in flooded areas that soaked their feet resulting in numerous cases of trench foot even though the outdoor temperature was mild.

Chilblains

Workers suffering from chilblains have a painful inflammation in small blood vessels in their skin. This is caused by a sudden warming from cold temperatures. The condition is sometimes called pernio and is often confused with frostbite. It causes itching, red patches, blistering and swelling of extremities such as your nose, ears, toes and fingers.

After treatment, chilblains usually clear up after about three weeks. However, they can return seasonally for years. Chilblains can lead to infections that can cause damage when not treated.

Workers Who Get Cold Stress Injuries

All types of workers can get cold stress injuries. Construction workers, first responders, dock workers – in other words, anyone who is exposed to extreme cold or frequently exposed to the outdoors and cold and/or wet conditions.

Employers tend to view employees who claim cold stress injuries from their work with suspicion and may try to make filing a claim difficult. In such cases, they often try to make the case that you were injured off the job.

If you have experienced a cold stress injury that is work related you should contact the expert cold injury workers’ compensation attorney at the Pennsylvania attorney team at Michael J. O’Conner and Associates at phone number (570) 874-3300. The first visit is free and the firm is not paid unless your case is won.

By Michael O'Connor

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