Winter in Minnesota can be wonderful. Still, the vast snow and the freezing wind can be dangerous for outdoor workers. The average low of 13°F from November through February can impose significant risk on these workers, which is why their employers must take safety measures to prevent cold-related injuries. The most common cold-related injuries are chilblains, trench foot and frostbite.
Chilblains are an inflammation of the skin’s blood vessels that result from exposure to cold, but not freezing, temperatures. Chilblains can cause redness, blisters and an itching and burning sensation on the hands and feet. They can last for some weeks, but they can leave permanent damage if the worker’s blisters get infected.
Trench foot occurs when feet are wet and cold for an extended time. With a trench foot, the tissue in the foot begins to die, and the person can feel a lot of pain, swelling, numbness and an itching sensation. Sometimes, trench foot can result in ulcers, bleeding under the skin and even gangrene (when the foot turns purple, blue or gray). If gangrene happens, the doctors may amputate the foot.
Frostbite is an injury caused by the freezing of the skin and tissue. Its symptoms include numbness, tingling, aching, inflammation and bluish or pale color on the affected areas. The most common body parts a person can get frostbite on are the hands, the feet, the nose, the ears and the cheeks. If left untreated, frostbite can permanently damage tissue, leading to amputation.
The employer’s responsibility
The best way to avoid a cold-related injury is by taking precautions while being outdoors in the cold. Employers are responsible for their employee’s health at work, so they must be the ones to ensure the correct safety measures are set to protect them. If you are an outdoor worker, your employer must:
- Train you to recognize these injuries
- Reduce the time you spend in the cold
- Reduce the physical demand
- Encourage you to take breaks to warm up
- Give you appropriate gear for the cold
Even if your employer takes certain steps to prevent you from getting a cold-related injury, you must know that you could still get hurt one day. However, you wouldn’t need to pay for your injuries yourself. Instead, your employer will pay for them.
A worker’s right
Outdoor workers in Minnesota have the right to seek compensation if they get any of these injuries on the job, no matter who was at fault for the injury. By filing a claim, workers can get compensation for their lost wages and medical expenses, as well as a cost-free vocational rehabilitation if needed. These are the workers’ rights under the law, and they can fight for them in court.