Cold Water Immersion:

Understanding the Hypothermia Risks in Maritime Workers

Maritime work is notoriously dangerous, and exposure to cold water is an ever-present risk that could lead to permanent health problems or death. Hypothermia is a life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature drops dramatically. If a maritime worker suffers hypothermia and any subsequent health issues while working, it’s crucial that they protect their rights by consulting with a maritime injury attorney.

At Fuquay Law Firm, we aggressively defend the rights of maritime workers and their families. If you’ve suffered hypothermia in the course of your job duties, let’s talk. Call us at 251-473-4443 to set up a consultation right away.

Risk Factors for Hypothermia

Hypothermia can affect anyone in the right conditions, but certain circumstances do make it more likely. These risk factors include:

  • Dramatically low water temperature: The lower the water temperature is, the more likely hypothermia will set in—and the less time it takes.
  • Use of PPE: If a maritime worker is not using personal protective equipment, has inadequate PPE, or is using improperly fitted PPE, their risk of hypothermia goes up significantly.
  • Duration of immersion: The longer you remain in cold water, the greater your risk of hypothermia is. This is one reason it’s so important for vessels to have adequate safety protocols in place to rescue immersed workers.
  • General health and physical condition: An individual’s overall health and strength play a big role in how they react to cold water immersion. A worker who is generally in poor health or suffering from an illness is likely to suffer worse outcomes than someone in good health.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: A variety of medical issues, including circulation disorders, can drive up the risk of hypothermia.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

Recognizing the symptoms of hypothermia makes it easy for injured workers to get the medical care they need more quickly. Mild hypothermia is marked by fatigue and exhaustion, shivering, pale skin, and goosebumps. Those who have progressed to moderate hypothermia may experience stiff muscles, confusion, difficulty speaking, and limited motor skills. The signs of severe hypothermia include unconsciousness, weak and irregular pulse, shallow breathing, and dilated pupils. At this point, an individual’s life is in danger, and they need immediate assistance.

Prevention and Treatment

There is a lot that maritime employers and vessel owners can do to protect employees from hypothermia. Education and ongoing training must be a priority—not just at the time of hiring, but regularly throughout an individual’s career. Workers should be trained on risk factors, symptoms, and ways to manage hypothermia. Employers should also provide adequate PPE every single time, for every single worker.

Training should include emergency drills in which workers get to practice cold water survival techniques. While no one would ever suffer hypothermia in an ideal world, it’s always a risk—and workers should know how to protect themselves if they become immersed. Techniques like the huddle position can help immersed workers avoid losing too much body heat. During emergency drills, workers should be able to execute safety protocols and call for help in an appropriate amount of time.

Long-Term Effects of Hypothermia

Those who suffer mild hypothermia may recover quickly with minimal side effects. The longer a person is immersed and the more their hypothermia progresses, the more likely it is that they will be left with permanent health issues.

Organ damage may occur, with the heart and nervous system at significant risk of impairment. This can affect a person’s overall health, endurance, and quality of life. Frostbite may leave victims with permanent nerve damage that affects their ability to work. In severe cases, amputation may even be required.

Some of the more serious health risks include post-immersion collapse and secondary drowning. Post-immersion collapse occurs after an individual is rescued and is caused by a serious drop in blood pressure. Secondary drowning is a possibility if an individual inhales water—the danger is that it’s often not recognized until it’s too late.

Injured in a Maritime Accident?

Contact Fuquay Law Firm Now

Hypothermia is a serious health issue that can follow you for the rest of your life. If you’ve suffered hypothermia while working aboard a vessel, let’s talk about your next steps. Call Fuquay Law Firm at 251-473-4443 or reach out online to set up a consultation now.