During the winter months, the risk of injury on the job increases for workers in Indiana and Illinois.
Winter weather can be harsh in our part of the country. Average lows remain at or below freezing every night for several months. And that’s before we get hit by any weather storms or blizzards.
It’s something that Hoosiers and everyone in Illinois accept as part of the changing of the seasons. We have snow. We have ice. We deal with it.
However, for anyone who has a job where they need to be out and about in the outdoors, winter can be dangerous. Working in the cold winters here brings unique risks and hazards of accidents and injuries.
Safety Laws for Workers on the Job in Winter Weather Conditions
There are federal and state laws in place to protect workers from winter weather hazards. Both Indiana and Illinois state laws are on the books as occupational safety requirements. Federal laws are overseen by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (among other agencies). How to keep workers safe during winter work has been studied for many years.
It’s well known what is needed to keep workers safe from harm while they are working under winter weather conditions. The problem is that employers don’t always offer that protection to their employees. That’s when workers get hurt, and sometimes killed, on the job.
Employers and supervisors are required by law to know the special dangers that face workers who are working in winter weather conditions. If you are on the job outside at any time, for any part of your workday, then you should be given special protections and considerations by your employer.
If they fail to take these steps to keep you safe from harm, and you are hurt while working on the job in a winter weather accident, then they will be liable for your accident damages under the state worker’s compensation law.
Common Winter Dangers for Workplace Accidents
There are several kinds of accidents that happen time and again here in Indiana and Illinois during the winter months. These all-too-common winter workplace dangers can severely injure or kill the worker.
- Falls (Slip and Fall; Trip and Fall)
Snow and ice are obvious dangers. They can cause a worker to lose his footing and fall down. We all slip and slide on wintery pathways, sure. However, a fall accident on the job cannot be discounted just because it’s a well-known risk. Hundreds of people die each year in this country from injuries sustained from a fall while working on the job.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that over 800 workers died from slip and fall/trip and fall accidents in this country during 2015. Having hazards like snow or ice only increase the likelihood of a serious fall accident for a worker here in Indiana or Illinois.
Employers should have safety plans in place to address the danger of snow or ice and a slip and fall accident. Worker safety should include things like proper gear such as footwear with heavy treads designed to give support and traction on slippery surfaces. There should be safety protocols like de-icing walkways and prompt snow removal from parking areas.
- Frostbite / Hypothermia
The human body is not designed for exposure to cold winter weather. Without adequate protection, workers can suffer serious bodily harm from exposure to the elements. Winter weather conditions can cause frostbite or hypothermia. These not only can cause permanent harm, they can kill.
Hypothermia happens when the worker’s body temperature drops dangerously low because of prolonged exposure to the cold weather conditions. Unless the worker receives treatment for hypothermia, the continued cold conditions will lead to heart failure, collapse of the respiratory system, and death.
Symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Hands shaking
- Sudden lack of coordination
- Wobbly walking or stumbling
- Drowsy or sleepy
- Speech is slurred.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports thousands of people die each year from winter weather exposure and hypothermia. Employers must be aware not only of workplace conditions but how their employees are doing on the job as they work.
If a worker is exposed to the cold, then the worker should be monitored for his physical condition. If he is experiencing any symptoms that suggest a risk of hypothermia, help needs to be given to that worker immediately.
Frostbite is the freezing of human skin and tissue and it is a serious bodily injury. It can happen to a worker even if they are wearing gloves or other protective clothing. Frostbite is permanent skin damage that requires medical care. Prolonged exposure and advanced frostbite can result in the loss of fingers, toes, or limbs. Workers can die from frostbite because it leads to hypothermia.
Symptoms of frostbite include:
- Skin that is very cold to the touch
- Hardened skin
- Pale skin
Complications from frostbite include both hypothermia as well as gangrene. It can also cause serious infection in the exposed areas.
Again, employers have a legal duty to keep their workers safe from harm while on the job. This includes monitoring workers on the job in winter weather to make sure they are free from symptoms of frostbite. Frostbite can cause permanent harm, like loss of limb, as well as death from hypothermia.
Justice for a Winter Workplace Accident
After you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident while working on the job, it will be necessary to file a claim for workers’ compensation coverage under the state workers’ compensation laws. Both Indiana and Illinois have passed specific workers’ compensation statutes protecting workers who are injured on the job.
Proceeding under these state systems can be complicated. Additionally, there may be some accidents that have additional legal redress through defective product or negligence laws outside the workers’ compensation system.
Winter weather accident claims can cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, long term therapy costs, and much more. How the injured employee gets justice under the law will depend upon their unique circumstances and how their accident happened. Let’s all be careful out there!