As the “Bomb Cyclone” storm headed for the northeastern United States early in January 2018, the maritime industry felt the harsh effects. Closure of the Chesapeake Bay highlighted winter storm risks for maritime worker injuries, as well as the detrimental financial effects cause by such unpredictable weather.
Called the Bomb Cyclone because of the rapid drop in barometric pressure, the intense winter storm hit the East Coast with a fury. The Marine Corps and Navy froze operations along the East Coast and maritime commerce halted. With the closure of the Chesapeake Bay entry, a quarter billion dollars in maritime commerce was also frozen.
The reason for closing the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads was high winds and blizzard conditions on the water. Visibility dropped to near zero in some areas due to blowing snow and all maritime traffic was halted or urged to halt until conditions improved.
Bomb Cyclone Highlights Winter Storm Risks for Maritime Worker Injuries
Some maritime worker injuries result from the harsh winter weather directly. Their unique position on the water offers little protection from wind, water, or blizzard conditions. Exposure to these conditions can lead to frostbite, hypothermia, or a series of other cold-related injuries or illnesses.
Winter storms can cause risks including cold-related illness and injury, as well as environmental or work-related hazards. These risks may include:
- Limited visibility
- Slippery surfaces
- Snow-covered tripping hazards
- Limited access to emergency or quality of life supplies
- Power outages
- Wind gust damage
- Icy surfaces that may break and cause ice chunks to fall from overhead
The most common illness or injury occurring due to weather exposure are frostbite and hypothermia. Recognizing the signs and symptoms is important for anyone in the maritime industry so treatment can be administered immediately. Keep watch for the following:
Symptoms of frostbite may include:
- Pale or blue skin, particularly on the hands, feet, nose, or ears
- Skin is numb and cold
- Joints and skin may appear stiff and rubbery
- Severe frostbite may cause skin to turn black (necrosis)
- Severe frostbite may cause blisters to form under the skin (may appear fluid filled)
Symptoms of hypothermia include:
- Core body temperature of 95 degrees or lower
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Loss of dexterity
- Skin is pale and cool
- Severe hypothermia may cause confusion, slurred speech, difficulty breathing, and irregular heartbeat
Reducing Winter Storm Risk Factors for Maritime Workers
To help protect workers assigned to cold environments, the United States Department of Labor recommends the following:
- Recognize environmental and weather conditions that may be dangerous.
- Monitor weather reports and take advisories seriously.
- Train all workers about illnesses and injuries caused by cold conditions.
- Ensure that all workers know the signs and symptoms of conditions like frostbite and hypothermia, and how to respond.
- Ensure that workers are equipped with proper gear to reduce risks associated with cold, windy, or wet working environments. Dressing in layers with hat, gloves, and insulated boots can help keep moisture and cold away from your skin.
- Allow individuals working in cold environments to take routine breaks in a warm, dry environment.
- Schedule work in cold conditions during the warmest part of the day.
- Avoid working when tired or fatigued, as lack of energy can lessen the body’s ability to warm muscles.
- Drink fluids that are warm and sweet, but do not contain caffeine or alcohol.
- Eat foods that are hot and high in calories and carbohydrates.
- Recognize that some medications – prescription or over-the-counter – can increase risks associated with cold working environments.
Employers are tasked with ensuring that work environments are safe. If you have questions about workplace safety, accidents, or your legal rights, contact us today.
How to Respond to Winter Storm-Related Illness or Injury
When winter storm conditions lead to illness or injury, maritime workers must be prepared to take action. For environmental or work-related hazards, employers and workers must take steps to prevent accidents and reduce hazards in the work environment. Keeping surfaces clean and secured, wearing proper gear, and taking appropriate measures to stay safe are paramount.
Response to Work-Related Accidents:
- If safe to do so, move the individual to a dry, warm location
- If not safe to move the individual, take steps to keep him or her as dry and warm as possible
- Get medical attention immediately
- If medical attention is unavailable, attempt to stop bleeding and immobilize the individual
- Fill out a complete accident report to document the incident and injuries as best as possible
- Take action to prevent other workers from suffering a similar injury
For cold-related illness or injury, it is sometimes necessary to take action before formal medical attention can be obtained. If medical care is not immediately available, consider the following:
Response to frostbite:
- Move to a warm, dry room
- Avoid walking if your feet or toes are frostbitten
- Place affected areas (feet, hands, etc.) in warm but not hot water
- Use body heat to warm affected areas if warm water is not available
- Avoid massaging frostbitten areas as this can exacerbate damage
- Avoid using a heating pad, lamp, stove, or fireplace to warm affected areas. Frostbitten areas are more susceptible to burns due to numbness.
Response to Hypothermia:
- Move to warm and dry room or shelter
- Remove any wet clothing
- Start warming the body from the center, focusing on the chest, neck, head, and groin areas
- Use body heat from skin-to-skin contact to gradually warm the body
- Provide warm beverages that do not contain alcohol
- Avoid giving food or drink to someone who is unconscious or nearly so
- Once body heat has increased, keep the individual warm with blankets
- Get medical attention as soon as possible
Learn More about Maritime Worker Injuries and Safety
Maritime workers and employers can take steps to reduce risks and improve safety. Unfortunately, sometimes accidents, injuries, and illness still occur. In some cases, injuries or illness are a result of an honest accident. In other cases, there may have been negligence that contributed to, or caused, the accident.