It’s no secret that maritime occupations aren’t for the faint of heart. These jobs demand respect and caution. One wrong step could mean death.
These conditions are made worse when winter comes along.
With over 20 years of experience, our Gulf Coast maritime lawyers at Lapeze & Johns have seen their fair share of accidents and injuries when winter turns the seas into a harsh, teeth-chattering environment. Below you will find information related to risks associated with maritime work and tips by which to protect yourself during this tough season.
What Are My Risks?
Winter on the water is much different than winter on land. When you are on a boat in the middle of The Gulf, you don’t have barriers to protect you from the cold wind. Coupled with the fact that you are surrounded by cold water and you’ve got a dangerous combination that increases your risk for hypothermia.
As you may be aware, however, those aren’t the only risks you face while working out on the ocean:
- There is limited visibility, especially at night. Light sources are scarce out on the water.
- Surrounding water and swells make for slippery surfaces.
- Snow can conceal anything on a boat, causing tripping hazards.
- You have limited access to emergency services and supplies.
- Power outages can leave you stranded in the cold dark.
- Head injury from falling icicles is a serious threat.
All of these risks can be mitigated, however, with proper crew training.
Tips to Keep Safe and Warm While Working the Winter Season
Dressing in layers is the primary defense to combat the cold. Hats, gloves, and insulated boots aid in retaining body heat and keeping away moisture. Stock up your warm and dry break area with high carbohydrate and calorie foods – the hotter the better. Warm, sweet liquids are a blessing for warming chilled bones so long as they do not contain any alcohol or caffeine.
Schedule work during the warmest part of the day and avoid working when you are tired. A lack of energy can lessen the body’s ability to keep muscles warm.
Last, take a look at your medication. Some prescription or over-the-counter meds can increase the risks associated with cold working environments. Knowledge about illnesses and injuries caused by cold conditions is what saves lives. Your crew should be properly trained to recognize the most common signs and symptoms of illnesses like hypothermia and frostbite, as well as how to effectively respond to them.
The Most Common Illnesses and Injuries
Frostbite is a serious condition where your skin and underlying tissues freeze. It usually occurs to fingers and toes but is no stranger to the nose, ears, cheeks, and chin. Normally, exposed skin is at a greater risk of developing frostbite but even skin that covered by gloves or other clothing are susceptible to frostbite.
Signs of frostbite to keep an eye on include:
- Pale or blue skin, especially around the areas mentioned above
- Numb, cold skin
- Skin and joints that may look rubbery or waxy
- Blistering that forms underneath the skin
- Necrosis, or a blackening of the skin
Quick action and time are essential when it comes to responding to someone that may be suffering from frostbite. Should you or a team member become affected by frostbite:
- Move them to a warm, dry place
- Avoid walking on feet or toes that are affected
- Place the affected areas in warm water, not hot
- If no warm water is available, use your body heat
- Avoid massaging the affected area as massaging can cause the problem to get worse
- Don’t use lamps, heating pads, a stove, or a fireplace to warm up areas that are affected as this can cause greater damage
In some cases, depending on the severity of the frostbite, amputation may be required. In any case, try to get to the hospital as quickly as you can and stay warm and dry.
When your body is losing body heat faster than what it can produce, your overall body temperature begins to plummet. This phenomenon is known as hypothermia and is common during winter.
The signs and symptoms of hypothermia are:
- Core body temperature falls below 95 degrees
- Pale skin that is cool to the touch
- Shivering uncontrollably
- Loss of dexterity
- Most importantly, severe hypothermia causes confusion, irregular heartbeats, breathing difficulty, and slurred speech
Hypothermia is fatal if proper care is not provided. If you or someone you know is suffering from hypothermia:
- Move the person affected into a warm, dry area or shelter
- Remove any wet clothing
- Start warming the trunk of the body first, starting with the chest and working outward to the neck, head, and groin areas
- Drink hot beverages that have no alcohol
- Use skin-to-skin contact to gradually warm up the affected person
- Use blankets to keep them warm once body heat has increased
- Avoid giving food and drink to someone that has passed out or nearly passed out
Most importantly, get medical attention as soon as possible. Don’t put it off even if you believe the person affected is recovering just fine.
Have you been injured or become ill as a result of working out at sea? Get the maritime personal injury representation you deserve. The Gulf area maritime experts at Lapeze & Johns provide the legal guidance you need.
Our Gulf Coast maritime attorneys have proven themselves for the past 20 years, gaining successful verdicts, judgments, and settlements for offshore workers and their families stretching from Texas’ to Florida’s coastline.