The types of cold stress and how to prevent them

Cold stress is a condition that outdoor workers are at risk for developing in wintertime. It occurs when the skin temperature and, eventually, internal temperature reach such a low level that the body can no longer warm itself. In Missouri and across the U.S., cold and wet conditions can lead to three main types of cold stress: trench foot, hypothermia, and frostbite.

Hypothermia is the most common and deadly of the three conditions. When the body temperature drops to 95 degrees Fahrenheit and below, the body can no longer produce heat fast enough to counteract the heat loss. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, poor coordination, and memory loss.

Frostbite is a condition in which the skin and tissue become frozen, sometimes to the point that the extremities need to be amputated. Those with poor circulation are especially likely to develop frostbite. Trench foot refers to the foot infection caused by immersion in cold, wet environments. It can lead to numbness, swelling, blisters, and the death of skin tissue cells.

Cold stress is preventable. Employers should make sure that outdoor workers go out in pairs and look out for each other. Employees should also be trained to recognize the symptoms of cold stress and know when it's necessary to seek medical help. Giving workers frequent breaks in a warm, dry place is also encouraged.

Even when employers take care of their workers, injuries can still arise through unforeseen circumstances. In such cases, victims can still file for workers' compensation benefits to cover their medical bills, lost wages, future lost income and other losses. Filing for these benefits waives the right for victims to sue, however, so it's important for injured workers to consult with lawyers to determine how to move forward. If negligence caused the accident, then filing a personal injury claim may be the better option. An attorney may take the case to court.

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