Many Massachusetts residents may be watching the snow fall from their windows and from the safety of their home without realizing that construction workers continue to work outdoors to complete projects regardless of the prevailing weather. These workers put themselves at risk of contracting workplace injuries and illnesses from cold stress.
Cold stress can result in hypothermia or frostbite while accumulated snow and ice can lead to dangerous slips and falls. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, slips and falls accounted for 800 workplace deaths in 2015. While they happen year round, winter and snow tends to create a more hazardous environment for workers. This is why employers must take extra steps during the winter months to protect their employees, such as preventing ice build up on walkways and deicing them regularly. It is important not to overlook parking lots or outside break areas, as these are common accident areas. Neglecting to address any of these areas could create an unsafe working environment for employees.
Workers who are outside for a long period of time may find themselves at risk for suffering the consequences of cold exposure, such as frostbite and hypothermia. Both of these ailments can have serious long-lasting effects, which is why employers should be aware of how to detect the signs of it. Symptoms of frostbite include blisters and swelling and skin that is hard and pale whereas hypothermia is demonstrated by shivering and slurred speech. Seeking medical attention immediately is important, as is removing all wet clothing and applying dry, sterile bandages to the affected areas.
Safety programs should include the employees and companies should encourage them to actively participate in them, including actively engaging with them to identify which areas could become safer. When an employer does not fulfill their responsibility of creating a safe working environment, workers compensation may become available for injured workers.