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How can cold stress affect a construction worker?

New York owners of construction companies are expected to ensure the safety of their employees at all times. However, during the cold winter months workers face additional hazards that need close monitoring in order to prevent construction worker injuries. When the skin temperature is driven down, continued cold temperatures can cause the core temperature -- or internal body temperature -- to drop to levels low enough to cause cold stress.

Cold stress may result in tissue damage, other severe health problems and may even be fatal. In cold conditions, a worker's body will use most of its energy to maintain its core temperature. Blood flow will be concentrated in the abdomen and chest, while blood supply to the skin, arms, legs, hands and feet will be reduced, hence the increased risks of hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot.

When a worker's body temperature drops to 95 degrees or lower, and continued cold conditions prevent it from getting back to the normal state of 98.6 degrees, hypothermia will occur. Under these circumstances, a worker may become disoriented and confused, and his or her hands may fumble when handling objects. Extreme conditions can also cause the worker's skin to freeze, including the freezing of the underlying tissues. This is called frostbite and can lead to hand or foot amputation, in severe cases. In conditions in which feet are exposed to cold and wet conditions for extended periods, trench foot may result.

New York employers should inform workers of the potential hazards of working in cold temperatures and ensure that they know the symptoms of and emergency treatments for cold stress. The physical conditions of employees should be monitored, and protective equipment should be provided to prevent construction worker injuries. Workers who have suffered the consequences of cold stress may pursue compensation from the workers' compensation insurance fund. The benefits typically cover medical bills and lost wages but may also include additional compensation in cases in which amputations are the result of frostbite.

Source: osha.gov, "Cold Stress Guide", Accessed on Feb. 18, 2015

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