Hopefully you are enjoying a warm holiday season with friends and family.
When we think of work-related injuries associated with winter weather, we often think of utility crews, snow-plow and road crews, law enforcement and other employees who must brave outside temperatures as part of their daily routine. Certainly, these workers are at heightened risk. But many others face increased injury risks, from those working in cold factories and warehouses to retail workers task with snow removal and other outdoor activities. In fact, such employees are often unprepared for winter-weather tasks, which can put them at even greater risks than those used to working in extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) as part of their work routine.
Workers’ compensation lawyers in Boston know the risks are substantial but not unpreventable. Both employees and employers must do their part to stay safe on the job as temperatures plummet across New England.
Massachusetts Weather-Related Work-Injury Claims
An experienced Boston workers’ compensation lawyer will be best able to determine liability and protect your rights. Under M.G.L. c. 152, the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act, most employees injured on the job are entitled to coverage of medical and rehabilitative expenses, as well as a portion of lost wages. This is a no-fault system that provides benefits to covered workers who are injured during the scope and course of employment. This means it’s not necessary to prove negligence or fault on the part of an employer, and in most cases an employee will be covered even if he or she was partially at fault for a work injury. However, coverage under Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws generally means a worker cannot sue an employer for additional damages, even if a company was negligent, as in cases where proper safety equipment was not provided or when steps are not taken to protect employees from the known dangers of harsh winter weather conditions.
But that does not mean workers’ compensation benefits are an employee’s only source of recovery. In cases where an at-fault party (other than an employer or co-worker) shares blame for injury (such as a property owner, equipment manufacturer or at-fault driver) a third-party liability lawsuit may recover additional damages not available under workers’ compensation laws. Consulting an experienced Massachusetts personal injury law firm can help identify all responsible parties while ensuring an employee collects all workers’s compensation benefits to which he is entitled. Timely reporting of a work injury is required, but employees who seek experienced legal help will often be in the best position to protect their rights in the wake of a work injury.
Hypothermia and Winter Work Injury Risks in New England
As one of the coldest areas in the nation, employees face greater risks in Massachusetts than in much of the rest of the country.
Hypothermia is a primary threat, both for outdoor workers and for those working in large facilities without adequate heat and insulation. In some cases, these employees may be at even greater risk because of inadequate safeguards and a lack of understanding about the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and other weather-related medical conditions.
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s normal temperature (98.6 degrees) falls below 95 degrees. While harsh outdoor weather can quickly increase the risks, inhospitable indoor temperatures can slowly take their toll, taking both employees and employers by surprise. Hypothermia is a life-threatening medical condition that can result in heart failure and respiratory suppression, eventually resulting in death if left untreated. Frostbite and gangrene may also result, typically starting with fingers and toes.
The Mayo Clinic reports common symptoms include:
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
Risks to employees can occur whether working inside or outside. Primary risk factors include inadequate clothing, being cold for too long, getting wet, or living or working somewhere with inadequate heat or insulation. The body loses heat in a number of ways:
- Radiated heat: Is lost from areas of the body not properly insulated, especially the head and feet.
- Direct contact: Body contact with cold surfaces significantly increases heat loss. Wet surfaces conduct heat away from the body much quicker than cold air.
- Wind: Those working outdoors should pay particular attention to the wind chill factor. Wind quickly removes warmer air at the surface of the skin, which can quickly result in loss of core body temperature.
Risk factors include fatigue, age (the elderly and young are more impacted), alcohol and drug use, and certain medications and medical conditions. Prevention includes covering the head, face and hands, dressing in layers, staying as dry as possible, and avoiding overexertion. In many cases, employers must take steps to provide extra break time for employees, or make other efforts to rotate workers out of cold weather at frequent intervals.
Winter weather creates a host of other injury risks for employees, including falls and injuries resulting from snow-removal. Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association offers a number of snow-shoveling safety tips:
- Wear warm, layered clothing.
- Use a shovel with a handle long enough to keep your back straight.
- Take it slow and take frequent breaks.
- Step in the direction you are throwing snow, which provides better leverage and reduces risk of back injury.
- Listen to your body.
Like any injury accident, careful documentation of conditions can be critical when it comes to recovering compensation. However, documenting conditions can be even more critical when weather-related injuries occur on the job. Dangerous conditions are often quickly corrected in the wake of an accident, and ice, snow, standing water or other weather dangers are transient in nature and are best documented in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Consulting a Massachusetts injury law firm can best allow you to protect your rights and recover the compensation you deserve.
If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
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