There is no doubt about it; this has been a cold winter for millions of people across the U.S. Early in the year, a polar vortex - a circular air mass normally stationed near the North Pole - traveled further south than normal, chilling Illinois residents. As the brutally cold air pushed into the country, numerous states experienced dangerously colder weather than they had in decades.
While some Illinois employees can change their work schedules or job duties to avoid working outside during the coldest days, many do not have a choice. During the winter, certain workers must face the elements and run the risk of incurring work-related illnesses or injuries. Common high-risk jobs include:
- Utility maintenance crews
- Police and firefighters
- Baggage handlers and airline ground crews
- Snow removal workers
- Postal delivery employees
- Construction workers
- Farmers and ranchers
Even during a normal winter, people who travel or work outdoors have to take special precautions to avoid cold weather dangers. For those who must work outside, staying aware of the potential risks and taking steps to prevent injury and illness can help.
Preventing cold weather injuries
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Hypothermia and frostbite can be life threatening and outdoor workers should avoid "toughing it out" when working in cold temperatures, high winds and snowy and icy conditions. Follow these tips to help protect yourself from weather-related work injuries:
- Wear appropriate clothing: Dress in layers as air trapped between your clothes acts as insulation. Wear gloves and a hat to help retain body heat, and be sure to cover your ears and neck. A facemask can help in windy conditions, as can a windbreak or tent around your work area.
- Avoid getting wet: Wear a synthetic, moisture-wicking layer closest to your body to keep from getting wet from sweat. Change out of wet clothes, gloves or shoes immediately as body heat is lost at a much higher rate when items are wet.
- Take frequent breaks: Working in the cold is exhausting and your body needs short breaks to make it through long winter days. A few minutes inside at frequent intervals will help keep your body and extremities warm.
- Eat and drink: Consume warm, high-calorie beverages and food when working in cold temperatures to keep your energy level up. Dehydration is common and may go unnoticed since you may not be sweating.
- Use the buddy system: Whenever possible, have a colleague with you so you can each monitor how the weather is affecting you. Hypothermia can cause delusions of warmth and sufferers make poor choices that can be deadly. Watch each other for signs of frostbite and have a cellphone handy in case of emergency.
In the event of injury
If you suffer an injury or illness in the workplace or due to your job duties, seek the counsel of an Illinois workers compensation lawyer. An attorney knowledgeable about work-related claims may be able to help you obtain compensation for lost wages, medical care and other benefits.