16
Jan 2018
By

Winter Poses Hazards of Work Injury in Rhode Island

The new year has brought some brutal winter weather to New England.

However, for many workers, getting to work in inclement weather means the risks are just beginning. Snow and ice increase the risk of work injury in Rhode Island for a host of professions and can impact nearly everyone leaving the house to earn a living. Likewise, pursuing justice for injured workers may involve any number of areas of law, including traffic laws, premises liability, third-party liability, workers’ compensation and disability law.

IMPO Magazine, which focuses on Industrial Maintenance and Plant Operation, advises companies to review mandatory evacuation plans, perform a thorough job-hazards analysis focused on winter-weather conditions, provide training on identifying cold-related illnesses and injury risks (including risks associated with frostbite and hypothermia) and use signage and other visuals to highlight the risks.

Hypothermia and frostbite most often impact employees who work outdoors, although those working on docks or in warehouses, factories and storage facilities may also be at risk. Both absolute temperature and wind chill contribute to the risks. Employers must take steps to protect employees, including increased rest breaks and hydration. Hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Frostbite results from frozen skin and most often impacts extremities, including fingers and toes, as well as exposed areas of skin like nose, ears, cheeks and chin.

Tens of thousands of injuries result from winter conditions

IMPO Magazine reports 42,000 employees a year miss at least one day of work due to injuries involving ice, sleet and snow. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports employees at particularly high risk of injury include delivery drivers, public safety personnel, roadwork crews and outdoor construction workers. Traffic accidents and slip-and-fall incidences are among the most common causes. Downed power lines, cave-ins from snow or ice accumulation on roofs and being struck by falling ice or debris are other potential causes of employee injury during winter months.

Risks associated with ice and snow removal include falls, heart attacks and back injuries, as well as risks associated with using snow-removal equipment like snowblowers and plows. While often overlooked, such risks often involve personnel inexperienced with using such equipment, which means workers are at increased risk of accident and injury.

For those driving for work or just to get back and forth to their job, the Rhode Island State Police offer a number of safety tips, including:

  • Never leave your car unattended while warming up.
  • Be especially careful on infrequently traveled roads and on bridges and overpasses, where ice will accumulate first.
  • Travel with a charged cell phone and at least half a tank of gas.
  • Do not follow too closely and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.
  • Learn how to brake and steer to counter a slide.
  • Don’t pass snow plows and sand trucks.

While most of these risks are specific to winter, safety advocates remind motorists that driving in snow or ice also exacerbates the risks associated with common bad habits behind the wheel, like using a cell phone or driving distracted, speeding, following too closely and failing to use special care in high-risks areas like intersections and parking lots. If you have been hurt on the job due to winter weather conditions, speak to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can help weigh your options.

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