Did you know that an estimated 1,300 people per year lose their lives in the United States due to exposure to extreme cold? Men made up 67% of hypothermia-related deaths.
Wind energy is increasingly becoming a crucial component of our energy supplies. For example, a newly proposed wind farm in Houston, Texas, is expected to generate enough power to supply approximately 3 million homes. As a result, there is a need for more people to work in this industry.
No matter how good wind energy may be for the planet, the people working on offshore wind farms are exposed to dangerous conditions. For example, hypothermia and frostbite injuries. Persistent offshore wind only magnifies the effects of this vulnerability.
Also, wind farm employees are vulnerable to the effects of exposure all year long, not only in the winter when cold-related accidents are more common.
You can avoid these injury issues with safety practices that prevent extended exposure. Therefore, employers and offshore firms must develop, impose, and implement safety standards to protect employees.
Working On Offshore Wind Farms
Due to the effects of waves, tides, and severe weather, offshore wind farms face more difficulties and risks when accessing, working, and responding to emergencies.
Offshore work is difficult and dangerous. This holds true for all those employed in any offshore industry. Be it the oil and gas industry and those in charge of constructing, running, and maintaining the offshore wind installations that will enable the production of clean, renewable energy.
Employees of wind farms will be exposed to risks such as:
- Unseaworthy sea vessels
- Tumultuous seas when traveling to and from offshore wind farms
- Exposure to extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes, waves, and powerful wind
- Equipment malfunction, such as turbines and related machinery
- Explosions and fires
If businesses don’t step up their efforts to ensure the safety of their employees, rising offshore wind production could lead to more accidents and fatalities on the job.
Working Offshore – Cold Air Exposure and Frostbite Injuries
Even though the danger of cold air exposure isn’t always as evident as the danger of being in icy water, it can still cause serious injuries to workers.
As the weather gets colder, wind farm workers will confront the dangers of working on a wind farm that will test and try their safety. It’s important to know the dangers of working in extreme cold weather and what you can do to reduce them. You can avoid accidents in these conditions if employers and crews have the right training, tools, and procedures.
The two main dangers of offshore wind farms in the winter are the weather and the rough seas. As an offshore employer, you must provide employees with the necessary resources to perform their jobs. For example:
- The proper protective gear
- Safely maintained boats and platforms to withstand the cold
- Boats that are seaworthy enough to withstand the icy temperatures and rough waves
In a nutshell, as an employer, you must look after your employees. This is so that they can do their jobs safely and effectively.
Working in Freezing Conditions and Wind Chill Factor
Offshore work in frigid conditions poses many risks. Some of the risks include:
- The risk of hypothermia
- The risk of frostbite
- Other frost-related injuries to crew members
It is not only low temperatures that you have to take into consideration. Another factor is the wind chill.
Even when weather conditions do not fall below freezing, it can feel much colder when it is windy. Cold air can be lethal on its own, but when it moves, it feels even colder.
Wind chill is the impact of cold wind on us. You determine the wind chill air temp by calculating the amount of heat loss from body surfaces caused by wind and cold. It gives you an idea of how chilly the air feels on your body.
As the wind speed increases, it draws heat from the body, lowering skin temperature and, eventually, internal body temperature. The wind chill temperature is -19°F (-28°C) if the air temp is 0°F (-18°C) and the wind speed is 15 mph (13 kt / 24 km/h). At this temperature, offshore workers are at risk of frostbite and hypothermia within minutes.
For example, frostbite can occur in 30 minutes at 40°F temperature with a 30-mph wind. If a person is exposed to cold or wet for an extended period of time, hypothermia can develop at much lower temperatures.
So, When Is It too Cold to Work?
When the body fails to warm itself, it can cause serious cold-related injuries, as well as tissue damage and even death. Hypothermia, trench foot, and frostbite are all examples of cold stress. If an offshore wind farm worker gets wet from sea spray, rain or water immersion, the following can occur:
- Trench foot can happen at temperatures as high as 60°F.
- Hypothermia can occur at temperatures above 40°F
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends a Winter Weather Working Guide. To avoid cold stress injuries, it suggests a 4-hour work/warm-up timetable with 10-minute break times at regular intervals.
Cold Weather-Related Offshore Wind Farm Injuries
Offshore wind farm workers may experience a variety of effects from the cold. If they do not receive the training, tools, and assistance required to be safe and warm, it can result in serious injuries or even result in worker deaths.
Cold weather puts maritime personnel at risk for serious cold-related ailments, including:
- Risks of frostbite
- Risks of hypothermia
- Risks of trench foot
- Risk of dehydration
- Risk of fatigue
- Even psychological effects
Low temperatures can affect you mentally just as much as they do physically. Offshore workers who are exposed to the cold for too long can experience more stress, less mental alertness, and changes in behavior.
Offshore Wind Farm Workers and Frostbite
Frostbite is a type of burn that occurs when the skin and tissues beneath it begin to freeze. It usually happens when the skin is exposed to freezing temperatures for an extended period of time.
There are various stages of frostbite depending on the temperature and the windchill factor.
Frostbite can develop rapidly in extremely cold environments. When wind and water are added to the mix, the process accelerates even further.
The Frostbite Stages
The severity of frostbite can range from mild to severe. These stages are established by the degree to which your skin and other tissues freeze.Mild Frostbite or Frostnip
When the cold affects your skin, it results in mild frostbite, which causes pain or numbness. As the skin warms up once more, you get a tingling, prickly sensation. Frostbite that is mild is not too serious, is temporary and treatable at home.Surface Frostbite
When skin layers deeper down freeze, this is referred to as superficial frostbite. Further to the pain and loss of feeling of mild frostbite, your skin becomes slightly discolored at this stage, turning pale blue or grayish.
When the skin is gradually rewarmed, you may experience the following:
- A prickling sensation
- A burning feeling
- Swelling in the affected area
12 to 36 hours later, fluid-filled blisters may develop. Home remedies can be used to treat superficial frostbite immediately after it occurs, but it’s best to seek medical attention as soon as possible after rewarming the skin.Deep or Severe Frostbite
The most severe kind of frostbite, known as severe frostbite, occurs when all layers of the skin and tissues beneath have been severely frozen. When this occurs, the skin turns white or bluish-gray and becomes numb to cold or discomfort.
Your frostbitten skin at this stage, may feel rigid and rubbery to the touch, and it may be difficult for your muscles and joints to function. Within 24 to 48 hours of rewarming the skin, blisters filled with fluid may form, and thereafter the damaged skin will turn black.
Severe frostbite demands rapid medical treatment. Sometimes hospitalization is required. In the worst situations, blood supply to the skin may be permanently restricted, requiring amputation of the limb.
However, in some cases of severe frostbite, the person may be able to avoid amputation, but will be left with permanent numbness. This in itself will affect the rest of your life. If you feel that this accident was through negligence on the part of your employer, you may be due some compensation.
What Can Offshore Wind Farm Workers Do If Injured?
Offshore wind farm workers have protection from several maritime laws. It goes without saying that maritime law requires offshore employers to provide workers a safe work environment.
If unsafe working conditions were to blame for the injuries they sustained, workers might be entitled to compensation under the Jones Act or other applicable maritime laws.
Protect Your Workers From the Cold Weather!
It is ultimately the responsibility of offshore companies to take the necessary precautions. They must safeguard employees from the hazards of offshore wind farm life. When businesses take the necessary precautions, they can avoid any risk associated with the winter season especially frostbite injuries.
Are you an offshore wind farm worker whose life has been affected by cold exposure at work? Was this injury due to negligence on the part of your employer? Help is at hand! Contact us for a free and confidential consultation.