Injuries from Cold Exposure
Most offshore injury claims come from common incidents that occur in the maritime field such as slip and falls, rigging accidents, or similar issues. However, one of the most dangerous challenges an offshore worker can face is cold exposure. If a maritime worker is exposed to frigid waters, they could suffer from hypothermia, frostbite, or other severe complications. Maritime hypothermia can even lead to death in extreme cases, making it crucial that workers are not only properly equipped for the cold, but also properly trained to handle it.
There are a number of offshore and maritime projects going on in frigid waters around the Arctic and similar areas. Whether you are in the oil or fishing industry, you will likely spend some time in a cold environment. As an increasing numbers of workers are brought to icy cold waters, employers are responsible for ensuring they have adequate protection.
How Your Body Reacts to Extremely Cold Environments
Did you know that cold immersion is one of the leading causes of accidental death around the globe? In fact, cold water is one of the greatest stresses the body can be exposed to, as it takes heat away very efficiently. While hypothermia can set in after about 30 minutes of being in icy waters, “cold shock” is an infamously dangerous issue that can cause a person immersed in cold water to suffer heart problems or even drown.
According to studies, there are four different stages of immersion that can be identified.
- Stage 1: The first 3-5 minutes of immersion will bring about a sudden drop of skin temperature, triggering a cold shock response. This can lead to uncontrollable breathing, an increase in blood pressure, and a strain on the heart. As the body acclimates, a person can stabilize and calm down.
- Stage 2: Making it to this stage means a person has a higher chance of survival. The superficial nerves and muscles will be cooled down, especially in the extremities, which may lead to damage if not taken care of probably. After 10 to 20 minutes, staying afloat can become much more difficult.
- Stage 3: After 20 to 30 minutes in the water, a person will become physically incapacitated so that they can longer keep themselves afloat on their own. If they are holding onto to an object, even this action can become impossible.
- Stage 4: At the 30 minute mark, hypothermia can occur, but may take longer to set in. Hypothermia causes the body temperature to drop so low that a person becomes “hypothermic,” often leading to death.
In many cases, a worker will not suffer hypothermia unless they are in the water for an extended period of time. However, stage one of cold shock can be just as dangerous and even deadly for workers. Being in the water just a few minutes could cause serious injuries and damage, including asphyxia, hypoxia, salt water aspiration syndrome, and even drowning.
The Silent Risk of Cold Air Exposure
While cold air exposure is not often as obvious as the danger of being submerged under icy waters, it can leave workers with just as serious of injuries. It is very important for a person to protect their extremities in a cold environment, as the body will shut down blood flow to these areas when it starts to cool. The hands and feet suffer the most, as they don’t have the muscles to generate heat on their own and depend on the blood flow of the body to keep their temperature up.
If the cells in the extremities, such as fingers and toes, are destroyed, the blood flow may be blocked. This means that when these areas do warm up again, the blood will clot, so there is no way to remedy the damage to the extremities. The tissue is destroyed, which can lead it to “auto-amputate” or wither. This can require surgery to ensure there is no infection.
Even when freezing conditions don’t cause frostbite, damage can be done to the skin, tissue, and nerves, making it very painful and difficult for an individual to continue working in their current condition.
Cold and wet work environments are extremely dangerous. If you or a loved one have suffered a cold exposure injury, let Arnold & Itkin help.