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Winter brings added dangers for outdoor workers

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Here in New York, we’re used to extremely cold, snowy, icy winters. However, for people who make their living outdoors, such as construction workers, utility employees and tow truck operators, can face dangerous health consequences from exposure to cold, wet conditions.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, thousands of workers are sickened or injured every year by extreme weather. Of course, in New York, that can mean scorching heat in the summer as well as sub-freezing temperatures in the winter.

Since winter just officially began, we’ll focus on some of the dangers of working outside in the cold. These include:

— Frostbite– Trench foot– Hypothermia– Chilblains (a painful inflammation of the skin’s small blood vessels)

Recognizing the symptoms of these cold-related conditions and getting help or at least out of the weather are essential. These can include pain, swelling, numbness or a change in pallor. It’s important not just to be aware of them in yourself but in your employees and co-workers.

Another serious danger for outdoor workers in the winters involves falls. People working high above the ground are always at risk for falls. However, icy surfaces increase the risk tremendously. When the temperatures drop, wet surfaces can become ice-covered very quickly.

Employers and contractors should provide their workers with information on how to prevent and recognize cold stress, which includes the conditions noted above. However, workers should also take steps to protect themselves, wearing layers of clothing, wearing proper hand, foot and head protection and taking breaks as needed to get out of the cold.

When employers don’t follow the necessary safety precautions in the winter and workers are injured or become sick as a result, those workers may have legal recourse.

Source: The Denver Channel, “Colorado outdoor workers face bitter cold dangers during the winter season,” Adam Hammond, Dec. 08, 2016

Jason Fuiman

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Co-Managing Partner and Chair of O'Dwyer & Bernstien's Labor & Employee Benefits practice, Jason has over twenty years of experience in the New York legal industry.