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Consequences of exposure to cold work environments

Employers in Ohio are responsible for the protection of employees’ safety and health. This is a significant responsibility during the cold winter months. Working outside creates the highest risk, especially if an individual is working alone. Cold stress consequences vary according to circumstances.

Frostbite happens when body parts are frozen:

  • Most often affected are the fingers, toes, chin, cheeks, nose and ears.
  • The first signs of frostbite include loss of color and feeling in the affected body parts.
  • If left untreated, frostbite could lead to amputation.

Trench foot or immersion foot results from feet exposed to cold and wet conditions for extended periods:

  • Trench foot could even result from feet being wet for long periods in temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Heat loss occurs much faster in wet feet than in dry feet.
  • When heat is lost through the feet, the body stops blood circulation to the feet.
  • The lack of nutrients and oxygen causes toxic buildup, which results in the death of skin tissue.

Hypothermia occurs when the worker’s body is unable to produce heat faster than the rate at which heat is lost:

  • When exposure to extreme cold is prolonged, the body will use all its stored energy.
  • The brain is adversely affected by a body temperature that is too low, causing impaired thinking and mobility.

All these cold stress conditions are severe, and the lack of prompt treatment could cause permanent damage, and in the case of hypothermia, even death. Affected Ohio workers need not be concerned about the financial consequences of seeking medical care. The workers’ compensation insurance system typically covers their medical bills and lost wages when applicable.