Workers in the commercial marine industry face numerous risks on the job. The industry is known for its inherent hazards; shipbuilders and those working in commercial marine facilities like marinas, cargo ports, and boatyards are exposed to potentially dangerous conditions all year long. Commercial marine insurance helps to cover against some of the risk exposures commercial marine operations experience. Unfortunately, workplace risks in this industry sector only increase in the winter months, with freezing temperatures and slippery conditions contributing to a rise in workplace injuries. One of the winter-related hazards is that of frostbite. In this guide, we will explore frostbite, with a focus on recognizing the signs and symptoms before they can impact workers. 

What is Frostbite?

Many commercial marine operations take place in the outdoors. Due to the nature of many operations within the industry, commercial marine workers who experience prolonged exposure to below-freezing temperatures and cold water during winter are at a higher risk of injury. There is a range of potential injury types in winter; together, these are known as cold-stress injuries. One of the most common injuries is frostbite. 

Frostbite is defined by the Mayo Clinic as an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. It commonly affects workers exposed to cold and windy conditions, such as those found during the winter months. Frostbite can affect any exposed skin, but it is most common on the fingers, ears, nose, and toes. Signs and symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Numbness and loss of sensation
  • Discoloration of affected areas, with skin turning red, white, bluish-white, or black in severe cases
  • A waxy or hard appearance of affected areas
  • Blistering of skin and tissues after rewarming
  • A sensation of warmness, tingling, or burning in affected tissues
  • Clumsiness due to stiffness in muscles and joints

In mild cases, referred to as frostnip, affected tissues may recover after rewarming. After prolonged exposure to freezing conditions, however, more severe cases can result in tissue death. Seriously damaged tissues may need to be surgically amputated, potentially causing long-term or permanent disability of marine workers who experience severe frostbite. 

Protecting Commercial Marine Workers from Frostbite Risks

Shipbuilding, fish processing, and cargo port operations are year-round endeavors. When winter’s cold appears, workers may need to continue outdoor operations even when weather conditions increase risks. To better protect workers from the effects of cold weather, several risk management steps must be taken. The first, of course, is for robust commercial marine insurance policies designed to protect facilities and employees from expected and unexpected risk exposures. The second, particularly in winter months, requires several components that work together to reduce the possibility of injury

To prevent frostbite from injuring marine workers, facility owners and managers should implement the following guidelines:

  • Training employees on the signs and symptoms of cold-stress injuries, including frostbite.
  • Creating a reporting mechanism to alert managers when workers exhibit signs of injury (confusion, numbness, loss of coordination, slurred speech).
  • Providing personal protective equipment to workers exposed to cold temperatures and water.
  • Implementing regular “warm-up” breaks for outdoor employees where they can take shelter and rewarm their bodies. 

Personal protective equipment (PPE) may consist of insulated hand and foot coverings, insulated coveralls, boots, and hats. Keeping tissues from direct exposure to freezing temperatures and high winds is the leading preventative step in warding off frostbite risks. Workers who are expected to be exposed to cold water or water spray should also be equipped with waterproof coverings for hands, feet, and bodies. 

With these preventative steps and the invaluable coverage of commercial marine insurance, facilities can better manage the injury risks of workers during the winter months. Frostbite and related cold-stress injuries can negatively impact daily operations, and in worst-case scenarios can result in the long term or permanent loss of employees. It is imperative that commercial marine facility owners and managers take winter risks seriously, reducing the possibility of life-threatening injuries of workers. 

About Merrimac Marine Insurance

At Merrimac Marine, we are dedicated to providing insurance for the marine industry to protect your clients’ business and assets. For more information about our products and programs, contact our specialists today at (800) 681-1998.