Maritime workers face a variety of hazards on the job, including the risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a dangerous drop in body temperature. This condition can lead to serious health complications and even death if not treated promptly.
Maritime workers are particularly susceptible to hypothermia due to the cold temperatures and wet conditions they often face while on the job. Additional risk factors may include inadequate protective clothing, exposure to wind and waves, and extended periods of time spent in cold water. It is important to be aware of these risk factors and take steps to mitigate them whenever possible.
Below, learn more about the risk factors, symptoms, treatment options, and your rights when it comes to hypothermia in the maritime industry.
Understand the Risk Factors for Hypothermia
Maritime workers are at risk of hypothermia when working in cold and wet environments, particularly in the winter months. Some risk factors that can increase the likelihood of hypothermia in maritime workers include:
- Exposure to cold water or air temperatures below 15°C (59°F).
- Prolonged exposure to wet clothing or equipment, which can accelerate heat loss from the body.
- Inadequate protective clothing, such as insufficient insulation or poor waterproofing.
- Physical exhaustion, which can impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
- Poor nutrition or dehydration, which can affect the body’s ability to generate heat.
- Age, as older workers may have a decreased ability to regulate their body temperature.
- Underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism, which can affect the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
These are not the only risk factors that may contribute to hypothermia. The maritime industry is harsh and working conditions can deteriorate quickly. Anyone working in the maritime industry should be diligent in understanding the risk factors unique to them, and how to prevent hypothermia.
What are the Symptoms of Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, leading to a dangerously low body temperature. The symptoms of hypothermia may vary depending on the severity of the condition, but some common signs and symptoms include:
- Shivering: Initially, the body tries to generate heat by shivering, which may progress to violent shivering as hypothermia worsens.
- Cold and Pale Skin: The skin may appear cold, pale, or bluish due to the constriction of blood vessels.
- Confusion: As body temperature drops, mental processes slow down, and the affected person may become confused, disoriented, or have trouble speaking.
- Slurred Speech: Hypothermia can affect the muscles used for speaking, leading to slurred speech or difficulty communicating.
- Fatigue: Hypothermia can cause a person to feel excessively tired or drowsy.
- Weak Pulse and Shallow Breathing: As hypothermia progresses, the heart rate and breathing rate may slow down, leading to a weak pulse and shallow breathing.
- Loss of Coordination: A person with hypothermia may have difficulty with movements such as walking, picking up objects or performing tasks that require coordination.
- Unconsciousness: In severe cases, hypothermia can lead to unconsciousness or coma.
It is essential to seek immediate medical attention if someone is suspected of having hypothermia, as this can be a life-threatening condition.
What is the Treatment for Hypothermia?
The treatment of hypothermia depends on the severity of the condition. If hypothermia is suspected, immediate medical attention is necessary. The primary goal of treatment is to raise the body temperature to normal levels gradually.
Treatment options may include:
- Removing wet clothing and covering the affected person with warm blankets or clothing.
- Moving the person to a warm and dry location and providing heat sources such as hot water bottles or heating pads.
- Administering warm fluids intravenously to help raise the body’s core temperature.
- Providing oxygen therapy to help improve breathing and increase the body’s oxygen levels.
- In severe cases, medical personnel may use specialized warming devices such as warm water immersion, forced air warming or heated intravenous fluids.
- Administering medications to help manage symptoms such as shivering or agitation.
- Close monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.
It is crucial to note that treatment of hypothermia should be done carefully and gradually, as a sudden increase in body temperature can cause complications such as cardiac arrest, respiratory distress, frostbite, or amputations. Prevention is the best strategy for avoiding hypothermia, particularly for those who work in cold and wet environments.
How to Prevent Hypothermia
Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself from hypothermia while working on the water:
Wear Protective Clothing
One of the most effective ways to prevent hypothermia is by wearing appropriate protective clothing. This may include a dry suit or immersion suit, insulated gloves and boots, and a hat to cover your head and ears. It is also important to wear layers of clothing that can be easily removed or added as needed to maintain a safe and comfortable body temperature.
Staying dry is crucial when working in cold, wet conditions. If your clothing becomes wet, it can quickly contribute to heat loss and increase your risk of hypothermia. Be sure to bring extra clothing and towels with you on the job. Change into dry clothes as soon as possible if you become wet.
Take Breaks to Warm Up
If you start to feel cold or experience symptoms of hypothermia, take a break to warm up. This may mean going inside a heated cabin or shelter, or using portable heaters or heated blankets to warm up your body. It is important to take breaks regularly to prevent your body from becoming too cold.
Find a Way Out
If you are in the water and start to experience the symptoms of hypothermia, it is crucial to get out of the water immediately. Maritime workers may have immediate access to a ladder or lifeboat, or may need to look for debris or other ways to get out of the water. The longer you are in the water, the greater the risk of developing serious hypothermia.
Know the Signs of Hypothermia
Finally, it is important to know the signs of hypothermia so that you can recognize it early and seek treatment. If you or a colleague experience these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. By understanding the risk factors and taking steps to prevent hypothermia, maritime workers can protect themselves from this dangerous condition and stay safe on the job.
Hypothermia and Your Rights
Hypothermia is an often-treatable condition. Unfortunately, however, maritime workers often face prolonged exposure to hazardous conditions that may prevent adequate prevention or treatment. Maritime employers are required to provide a safe working environment. If they fail to do so and, as a result, you develop hypothermia, you may be eligible to pursue compensation under maritime laws like The Jones Act.
Under maritime laws, a worker who suffers an injury due to negligence may be eligible for compensation for their medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and living expenses. The best way to find out your rights and options is to speak with a lawyer who has experience with maritime injury claims.
Find Out Your Rights and Options
If you are suffering the aftermath or complications of hypothermia, contact the maritime injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia, LLP. Our attorneys have more than three decades of experience helping maritime injury victims understand their rights, protect their rights, and the compensation that they deserve.
We have recovered billions of dollars on behalf of our clients, and we will fight aggressively to help you obtain justice when negligence causes you harm. Get started today by calling us at 713-333-1030. Our consultations are completely free.