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Keeping workers safe in cold environments

Cold, wind, and moisture, especially perspiration, all combine to reduce body heat, leaving people vulnerable to injuries and illness. Anyone who works outdoors should know about the guidelines and recommendations that NIOSH and OSHA have established. These suggestions can help employers and workers stay safe in the winter, and they apply not only in New Jersey but across the US.

To block wind, maintain their body heat, and keep as much of their skin covered as possible, workers should wear layers of clothing made from a breathable fabric and waterproof, insulated boots and gloves. They also should put on a hood or add an insulated liner on their hard hat if applicable. Workers should avoid touching metal surfaces with bare skin, bring blankets, and keep a first-aid kit nearby just in case.

Employers must do their part as well by making sure to train employees on potential threats so that they can respond accordingly should any emergencies arise. They also should provide a warm, dry shelter for frequent breaks; have workers partner up when appropriate so that they can monitor each other; and always maintain communication with workers, especially those that are in remote areas.

Extreme cold can lead to conditions like hypothermia and frostbite. Symptoms of the former include slurred speech, slow breathing, and constant shivering. Frostbite can cause numbness, aches, and skin that feels hard.

Inclement weather can be factors in serious workplace injuries. Hypothermia, for example, could lead to the amputation of fingers and other body parts. Workers' compensation may be able to cover medical expenses as well as the income that the victim would have received if he or she were not permanently disabled, so hiring a lawyer is important at this stage. An attorney could build up the case, and if a lawsuit is in order, he or she may litigate.

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