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Workers' compensation: Cold stress injuries can be costly

Employers in Illinois must ensure that all workers in positions that expose them to the cold winter conditions are aware of the risks of cold stress. Recognizing the symptoms and knowing how to prevent cold stress can save lives, and working in pairs is important. When the internal temperature of a worker's body drops too low, his or her body will not be able to produce enough heat to warm the body. Workers' compensation claims for this condition is prevalent at this time of the year, and if not treated in a timely manner, permanent tissue damage and even death can follow.

Frostbite is a common condition caused by exposure to extreme cold. It occurs when skin and tissues are frozen, and it could result in amputation. Most frequently affected are toes, fingers, earlobes and noses of workers. Another complication of exposure is trench foot, which occurs when workers stand in water or wet conditions for prolonged periods. Body heat escapes through the feet at an alarming rate when the feet are wet, and this can occur even in water of 60 degrees.

Hypothermia is a highly dangerous condition because a drop in body temperature to below 95 degrees can affect the brain. This may cause the victim to be unaware of his or her condition. Workers whose bodies are chilled from evaporating perspiration, rain or soaked in cold water can become hypothermic quickly, and prompt emergency treatment may prevent death.

Victims of cold stress may have to face substantial hospital and doctor bills, and in severe cases, such as those that led to amputations, the financial consequences can be overwhelming. Those affected can file benefits claims with the Illinois workers' compensation insurance program for coverage of medical expenses and lost wages. Surviving families of workers who lost their lives on the job can pursue compensation by filing death benefits claims. Experienced workers' compensation attorneys can assist with the navigation of such claims.

Source: workerscompensation.com, "Freeze Out Workers Comp Costs By Preventing Cold Stress Claims", Jan. 23, 2017

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