The basics of cold-related workplace illness in Ohio

People who may be exposed to cold weather on the job in Ohio should know how to spot and prevent related illnesses.

Ohio winters are long, gray and cold. Temperatures may drop below zero, accompanied by strong winds, sleet, snow and ice. People who work outdoors or in other professions in which cold exposure is a possibility should know how to prevent a cold-related illness as well as how to spot something is amiss.

Who is at risk?

There are some health conditions that could make it more likely for someone to be adversely affected by cold temperatures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration points out that anyone with diabetes, hypothyroidism and hypertension could be at an increased risk.

Essentially, anyone who may be exposed to severe weather is at risk. This could include people who work in construction, maintenance and repair. The threat of an illness setting in is especially high when employees are not dressed appropriately, or they are overworked and exhausted.

What are the illnesses?

The most common conditions that arise when someone has been to extreme cold for too long are frostbite and hypothermia. With frostbite, a person's skin may suddenly develop gray or white patches. If it is severe, blisters may appear. The person loses sensation in the area, and it feels hard to the touch. Anyone experiencing it should loosely cover the area, avoiding rubbing it or immersing it in water.

Hypothermia manifests a little differently. Initially, the person may shiver or stomp in an effort to keep warm. However, as the situation progresses, the person stops shivering and begins fumbling and losing coordination. Eventually, he or she may lose consciousness. The person should be moved into a dry and warm area and layered with blankets.

Both situations are serious and require immediate medical attention.

How can I prevent these conditions?

Dress for the job. Wear loose, layered clothing. This encourages warm blood to circulate throughout the body to keep it warm. Keeping an extra set of clothing on hand is key so if gloves, socks or anything else gets wet, the employee can immediately change.

According to OSHA, employers are required to have a workplace free from hazards. They should provide a space where workers can take breaks and get warm. Having extra staff on hand is helpful, as it enables people to escape the cold for longer periods of time.

What should I do if I get sick?

In addition to seeking medical attention, people who develop a cold-related illness on the job should file a claim for workers' compensation benefits. The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation states that any company that employs at least one person must carry an insurance policy to protect workers against an injury. Even employees who only work a short amount of time are covered. These benefits should account for medical treatment as well as missed wages, for those who qualify.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a workers' compensation attorney in Ohio.