When temperatures drop below freezing, hypothermia and frostbite are very real possibilities.
Workers need to know the signs of frostbite so they can get warm as soon as possible, let their employers know if they need to seek medical attention immediately and hopefully avoid the permanent skin damage or even amputation that might follow.
Frostbite is caused when skin and the underlying tissue freezes after being exposed to extremely cold air. While frostbite is most likely to occur on exposed areas like your nose, ears and chin, it also occurs on extremities such as your fingers and toes. Exposed skin is the most vulnerable but under tremendous cold it can occur under gloves, scarves or other clothing.
Stages of frostbite
The mildest form of frostbite is called frostnip. This is when your skin gets cold, numb and red and you feel tingling and pain. While frostbite is a serious condition that requires medical attention, frostnip can be treated without a doctor’s care by simply warming up the affected areas. Frostnip does not permanently damage the skin.
Superficial frostbite is noticeable when your red skin turns white and you begin to feel warm. If you rewarm the skin at this stage, your skin may appear mottled, will likely swell and you may see a blister on the area 12 to 36 hours after rewarming.
Severe frostbite affects all the layers of the skin. Your skin turns white, blue or gray. You feel numbness and lose sensation of cold or pain. Joints and muscles no longer work. Large blisters appear 24 to 48 hours after rewarming. The area will later turn black and hard as the tissue dies.
Best prevention tips
If you work in the cold, there are ways to help prevent frostbite:
- Stay indoors when it’s cold and windy
- Dress in layers of loose, warm clothing
- Wear a hat that covers your ears
- Wear mittens, not gloves
- Wear socks and sock liners that fit well
- Don’t wear boots that restrict blood flow
- Eat well and stay hydrated
- Keep moving
Any cold weather can bring on frostbite if your skin is exposed long enough, but temperatures of 5 degrees or lower with any wind at all can cause frostbite quickly. Get medical help if you experience gray or black skin, pain or swelling in the affected area or have a fever.
If you suffer a case of severe frostbite while working, contact an attorney who is experienced in handling workers’ compensation cases.