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Q

How low does the temperature have to be for a Philadelphia construction worker to develop frost bite or other cold-related injuries?

A

It’s been a cold winter. The average low temperature for January was 24 degrees Fahrenheit. This year, we experienced several days of single digit temperatures. This put many Philadelphia construction workers at risk of frost bite, hypothermia and cold-related injuries.

When the temperature is in the single digits, an unprotected worker can develop frostbite symptoms within minutes. Those at highest risk are workers who take beta-blockers for high blood pressure or heart disease, workers with peripheral artery disease, workers with diabetes, and smokers.

The chance of frostbite is increased the longer that you are exposed to the cold temperatures. Any wind will increase the risk. But, it doesn’t have to be freezing cold for frostbite to develop frostbite. Frostbite can occur anytime the temperature is below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature at which the water in cells can develop ice crystals. If the skin is wet, frostbite can develop at warmer temperatures.

Initial Symptoms of Frostbite

  • Hard, pale, cold skin
  • Skin that is waxy and white or bluish
  • Aching pain
  • Numbness
  • Lack of sensitivity to touch

 

When frostbite is mild, victims can make a full recovery. In most cases, there is permanent damage due to cell death. If the blood vessels become damaged, gangrene can set in and the body part may need to be amputated.

Degrees of Frostbite

  • First degree – Only the upper layer of the skin (epidermis) is affected. The skin is usually white and feels numb, but sometimes the skin is red. It may feel hard or stiff. A worker can make a full recovery if he receives prompt medical treatment.
  • Second degree – The affects the epidermis and part of the dermis. The affected skin is often red or blue and feels hard or frozen. Fluid-filled blisters may form on the affected area. There is often swelling.
  • Third degree – Frostbite affects the epidermis, the dermis and the fatty tissue immediately beneath the skin. Skin appears white, blue or blotchy with blood filled blisters. These blisters will later form scabs. The skin is hard and cold.
  • Fourth degree – Frostbite affects the skin and the tissues underneath the skin. The frostbite may also affect muscles, tendons and bone. The skin is initially deep red and mottled. It later becomes black.

 

The best way to prevent frost bite is to stay out of the cold. But, this isn’t always an option for Philadelphia construction workers. If you must be outside in wintry weather, cover your ears, your hands, and your face. Wear breathable boots and warm socks.

If you develop frostbite while working, avoid using the affected body part. Get out of the cold and seek immediate medical care. Your medical expenses should be covered by workers’ compensation.

If you have questions about your rights, call Mednick, Mezyk & Kredo, P.C., at 888-807-WORK (9675).