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Employers must protect construction workers against winter cold

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires construction company owners to provide safe work environments and protect employees from known hazards, one of which is cold stress. Without protection, construction workers in Tennessee and across the country put their lives on the line. Through safety training, workers must learn about the dangers they face when working in cold conditions, and also recognize cold stress symptoms in themselves and co-workers.

Training must cover basic first aid and the steps to take in emergencies, which could include downed power lines, slippery roads, winds that drive temperatures even lower, along with the risks of hypothermia, trench foot and frostbite. Workers must learn how to dress to keep their bodies warm and dry, how to navigate the engineering controls, and use the personal protective equipment their employers provide. OSHA encourages employers to limit the time workers spend outdoors and allow frequent breaks in warm rest areas.

Along with layered clothing to maintain body heat and stay dry, workers are advised to keep their feet dry to prevent trench foot. When the body cannot replace the heat it loses, it seeks to protect the vital organs, leaving the extremities vulnerable. For that reason, workers must keep their fingers, toes, noses and ears warm, and wear hats to prevent body heat from escaping from their heads.

Workers must know that cold stress can cause amputations and even death if the necessary preventive steps are not taken promptly. When construction workers in Tennessee lose workdays as the result of cold stress, their medical expenses and lost wages will likely be covered by the state-regulated workers' compensation insurance system. An attorney with experience in this often complicated field of the law can provide valuable support throughout the claims process.

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