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Outdoor winter work: the dangers, and how to avoid them

Employees who work outdoors probably know how the winter poses serious safety hazards. From hypothermia, frostbite, and chilblains to the increase in heart attack risk, extreme cold can present a number of dangers in Pennsylvania. OSHA and NIOSH offer several guidelines, however, for both employers and employees to follow.

Employees should wear multiple layers when working outdoors in cold conditions. Air trapped between the layers provides insulation, and it is easy for workers to remove extra layers if they get too warm. To decrease the amount of heat escaping the head, workers should wear a hat, a hood, or an insulated liner in their hard hat. Waterproof and insulated boots and gloves are also recommended.

It's essential that employers provide training well in advance of the winter. Employees should be able to detect signs of frostbite (tingling, numb, red skin that feels hard), hypothermia (excessive shivering), and other conditions. They should also be deployed in pairs so that they can monitor one another; no one should work alone, and those in remote locations should have a sure method of communication with their employer.

If possible, employers should set up a warm, dry shelter for breaks. On average, workers in cold environments should take 15 minutes off for every hour. They should also have access to hot beverages that do not contain alcohol or caffeine.

When worker safety is compromised, and an injury takes place, the victim has two options for receiving compensation. If the employer was not at fault, the victim could simply file for workers' compensation benefits, with an experienced workers' comp lawyer guiding him or her through the process. If the employer was negligent, for instance by failing to provide adequate training or communication methods with other workers, then the victim could file a personal injury claim. The lawyer may then seek a settlement out of court or pursue litigation as needed.

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