Winter Weather Occupational Accidents and Injuries

Tolbert Beadle

Winter weather can make any outdoor task more difficult. Low temperatures and slick conditions are natural obstacles that you may have to overcome throughout the winter months for your job. If you regularly work in poor weather conditions, it’s a good idea to have a plan to avoid or deal with winter-weather injuries.

The latest survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that there were over 20,000 occupational injuries that were caused by ice, snow or sleet in 2017. Cold weather and winter precipitation can cause complications for individuals who have to be outside for their job.

What Are Common Types of Winter Injuries?

  • Slip and Fall. Slip and fall cases are prevalent in the wintertime as ice, snow and slush can create slick surfaces indoors and out. If an area isn’t cleared correctly, it can be dangerous for employees walking on it.

The interior of a building can be susceptible to slip and falls in winter due to melted snow and ice tracked into the building.

  • Cold exposure illnesses occur whenever an employee is exposed to cold temperatures for long periods without proper protection from the elements. The three most common cold exposure illnesses are:
    • Frostbite: This illness occurs when the skin is exposed to freezing temps for an extended time. If the skin is exposed for long enough, it can cause permanent damage.
    • Hypothermia: This illness is an unnatural loss of heat from the body. Whenever your body temperature drops below its average level, your organs and body systems won’t work correctly.
    • Trench Foot: This illness occurs when an individual’s feet are exposed to excessive moisture, causing heat to escape through the foot. It also causes sores, blisters and possibly permanent skin damage if it’s not addressed.
  • Muscle Strains. Muscle strains can occur from a variety of outdoor activities but are more prevalent in the winter because cold weather causes muscles to contract faster than warm weather. Activities like snow shoveling are known for creating muscle strains in the back and shoulders if not performed correctly. Throughout a 17-year study, researchers found that there were an average of 11,500 emergency room visits per year due to snow shoveling.

How to Avoid Common Winter Accidents and Injuries

  • Exercise caution. Whether you are walking, driving a vehicle or performing strenuous labor, exercise caution. You can’t completely avoid accidents in winter weather, but being vigilant and observing your surroundings can lower your risk of suffering an injury.

If you have to drive in slick conditions, make sure to drive slowly and know what to do if your car begins to slide on ice. Driving slowly allows you to have more time to make decisions and come to a complete stop.

  • Wear appropriate clothing for your task. While there aren’t any set OSHA cold weather standards, your employer should be able to inform you on what kind of clothing you will need to resist the elements. If the task is especially adverse, you should receive some form of personal protection equipment (PPE).
  • Walk carefully from place to place. Whenever you are in a hurry, it’s easy to miss a patch of black ice and slip. Tread lightly, wear slip-resistant shoes and try to walk through areas you know have been cleared and salted.
  • Check to ensure that rooftops are structurally sound for work. If you are clearing snow or performing another task on a roof, make sure to check its structural integrity. Rooftops are especially dangerous when slick.
  • Watch out for any downed or damaged powerlines. Winter weather is known for bringing power lines down. If you see any downed lines near your workspace after a winter storm, contact your supervisor immediately.

What to Do If You Are Injured

Even if you carry out your job with caution and follow your task guidelines to the letter, accidents can still happen, and you can still sustain an injury. You need to know what to do if you are injured.

  • Seek medical attention. Visit a health care professional as soon as you can and get treatment for your injury. Even if you don’t feel any pain at the moment of the accident, you must do your due diligence and have the impacted areas examined.
  • Report your injury to your supervisor. After you address your damage, report your injury to your supervisor. It’s essential to get this taken care of promptly. If you wait too long, you may not be able to receive worker’s compensation benefits.
  • Consult with a workers’ compensation lawyer. The workers’ compensation system has become more complex, and the in-depth knowledge of a workers’ comp attorney can help you to make decisions on how to proceed with your claim.

Have you been injured in a winter weather-related workplace accident? Contact the experts at Tolbert Beadle to get the legal support you need.