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Georgia Workers Risk Safety in Cold Weather Extremes

Forecasts in Georgia over the next few weeks predict lows well below the 10s in some areas. With the wind child factor, the National Weather Service reports that some areas of the state may reach a dangerous 15 degrees below zero – or even colder.
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Even areas of southern Georgia, which are often insulated from the worst of winter weather, are expected to hit lows of less than 20 degrees.

While that’s still not nearly as cold as what our hardy Midwestern neighbors are enduring, many businesses in the south are not as well-prepared to deal with this kind of bone-chilling, record-breaking freeze. At greater risk for work injuries in Atlanta, employees toiling outdoors need to make sure the company is taking their well-being into careful consideration.

While schools have closed and state transportation workers have labored into the overnight hours to treat icy patches on bridges, the risk of a work-related crash or a cold weather injury or illness is heightened.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control refer to the latter condition as “cold stress.” There are numerous types, including hypothermia, cold water immersion, frostbite, trench foot and chilblains.

It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of each, as well as what measures can be taken to prevent them.

First, let’s start with hypothermia. This is a condition that occurs when the body is exposed to cold temperatures and starts to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Over a prolonged period, this can begin to affect the brain, causing the person to become clumsy and confused. This is what makes the condition especially hazardous; the person suffering may not realize what’s happening or, even if they do, might not be able to do anything about it. Early symptoms are going to include fatigue and shivering, as well as disorientation and loss of motor skills. In later stages, the condition involves a bluing of the skin, dilated pupils, slowed breathing and pulse, a lack of shivering and even a loss of consciousness.

Another type of cold stress is cold water immersion. This is a specific type of hypothermia, but it tends to be even more dangerous because it develops 25 times faster than regular hypothermia. This has to do with the fact that water works to pull heat away from the body at a faster pace. Someone who has been immersed in cold water in the kinds of temperatures we are currently experiencing must promptly receive medical attention in order to increase chances of survival.

Then there is frostbite. This is when, quite literally, parts of the body freeze. The most notable signs of it are discoloration and a loss of feeling in affected areas. Most commonly affected areas are the ears, cheeks, nose, chin, toes and fingers. Frostbite can cause permanent damage to human tissue. In some extreme scenarios, frostbite can necessitate amputation. Ensuring that workers are properly dressed and have adequate shelter is key to prevention.

Trench foot is similar to frostbite, except that it specifically involves the feet and happens when a person’s lower extremities are exposed to cold, wet conditions for an extended period of time. Skin tissue may begin to die, and this is extremely dangerous not only because it could lead to loss of the foot, but because it can result in the buildup of toxic materials in the body that could start to impact major organs if untreated.

Lastly, there is the risk of chilblains. This is a condition that is caused by repeated exposure of the skin to temperatures that hover just above freezing. It is characterized by red, itching blood vessels just below the surface of the skin. The damage it causes can be permanent, and can result in possible ulceration in extreme cases.

Employers should take care to schedule certain outdoor jobs for the warmest part of the day and make sure that workers expected to put in long hours on demanding outdoor jobs are given warm liquids, a warm break area and offered plenty of rest.

Workers should also be carefully monitored to make sure they aren’t exhibiting any of the signs of these dangerous cold stress conditions.

If you have suffered a cold stress injury on the job in Georgia, contact Attorney J. Franklin Burns, P.C. For a free consultation call 1-404-303-7770 today.

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