Working in the maritime industry can be tough year-round. Unfortunately, that risk intensifies during the winter months and in colder environments. Freezing temperatures and slick conditions contribute to an increase in maritime injuries and frostbite is one of the worst cold-related dangers faced by mariners.
Because of their long exposure to cold, damp, and windy environments, seamen and other maritime workers are particularly vulnerable to frostbite injuries. When the body is subjected to freezing temperatures, the skin and underlying tissues freeze, which results in frostbite. It most usually affects the fingers, toes, nose, ears, chin, and cheeks, although it can also affect other regions of the body.
Tingling, burning, numbness, aching, discoloration, and a change in skin texture are all symptoms of frostbite. Frostbite can develop quickly. If you notice any symptoms, get out of the cold as soon as possible, remove wet clothing, and rewarm the affected area of the body. Always report potential frostbite to your supervisor, the captain, or the vessel owner. It is crucial not to allow the impacted area to refreeze after it warms up, as this might lead to even more harm.
Frostbite has different degrees based on the body part, the temperature, and the length of time exposed. The damage might be minor, impacting only the top layer of skin, or it can be severe, harming the muscle, ligaments, and bone. Extreme frostbite can cause permanent loss of feeling in the affected area, necessitating surgery or amputation to remove the dead or dying tissue. For commercial fishermen, other commercial seamen who work in extreme cold weather, and mariners working in ship freezers, amputation can be life-changing and career-ending.
Workers exposed to cold and windy conditions, such as those encountered during the winter months or in northern climates, are more likely to be affected. Frostbite can occur on any exposed skin, although the fingers, ears, nose, and toes are the most commonly impacted.
In severe cases, the skin turns red, white, bluish-white, or black, with discoloration of affected areas.
The affected body parts may have a waxy or hard look.
Warmth, tingling, or burning sensations may be felt in the damaged tissues.
Rigidity in muscles and joints may cause clumsiness.
Seafarers who work on vessel decks are routinely exposed to the elements may be at risk of slipping overboard into potentially icy seas. For example, deckhands on commercial fishing vessels in Alaska and the Bering Sea can suffer from extreme frostbite due to the climate and sea state. Frostbite is sometimes associated with hypothermia, a life-threatening condition caused by a dip in body temperature. A maritime worker may suffer frostbite injuries if hypothermia is not treated promptly. Frostbite is defined as the freezing of tissues, which can result in their death and deterioration. Gangrene is the medical term for this disorder, and gangrenous tissues must usually be amputated.
Affected tissue may heal after rewarming in moderate cases of frostbite. However, more severe instances of tissue death might occur after extended exposure to frigid temperatures. Marine workers who suffer from severe frostbite may require surgical amputation of severely damaged tissues, resulting in long-term or permanent impairment. Frostbite can cause a maritime worker's death in the most severe circumstances. Employers can prevent these injuries and fatalities by ensuring that their vessels are seaworthy and that their employees are adequately trained.
When the cold of winter sets in, working while exposed to the elements may pose a risk. Several risk management procedures can be implemented to safeguard seafarers from the effects of cold. Maritime employers and vessel owners should follow the following rules to prevent frostbite from hurting marine workers:
Employees should be educated on the signs and symptoms of cold-stress ailments, such as frostbite.
There should be a system in place for supervisors to be notified when workers show indicators of injury (confusion, numbness, loss of coordination, slurred speech).
Workers who are exposed to frigid temperatures and water should be provided with personal protection equipment.
Mariner should be given regular "warm-up" pauses where they can rest and rehydrate their bodies.
If you suffered frostbite while working at sea, you might be entitled to compensation for your injuries under the Jones Act, LHWCA, unseaworthiness, and maintenance and cure.. Please contact Mariner Law, PLLC for a free consultation to see if you have a viable frostbite injury claim. Mariner Law, PLLC has experience negotiating with insurance companies and litigating in civil court to secure you maximum compensation in your frostbite case. If you are a seaman or longshoreman, you should be aware of your rights, as well as the rights of any dependent family members, in the terrible event that you are injured or killed on the job. Call (253) 600-2531 to speak with a Jones Act lawyer, there’s no obligation. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.