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Understanding warm weather injuries and their impact on military personnel

Warm weather injuries represent a concern for military personnel operating in humid and tropical environments. These environmental conditions create ideal circumstances for injuries such as Warm Water Immersion Foot (WWIF) and Tropical Immersion Foot (TIF) to develop, which can profoundly affect personnel’s mobility, overall health, and consequently, their careers and lifestyle. These injuries not only impede an ability to carry out essential duties but also limit participation in physical training for maintaining fitness and camaraderie within military units. As a result, addressing and mitigating the risk associated with warm weather injuries are imperative for ensuring the well-being of military personnel deployed in such challenging climates.

What are warm weather injuries?

Warm weather injuries occur as a result of prolonged exposure to warm or wet conditions. There are two main types of warm weather injuries:

Warm Water Immersion Foot (WWIF) also known as ‘Paddy Foot’ – presents as painful soles of the feet, with a white, wrinkled appearance, resulting from immersion in warm water (between 15 and 32°C) for up to 72 hours. Symptoms typically include pain when bearing weight on the affected feet and abnormal sensations such as tingling, pins and needles and increased susceptibility to the cold.
Tropical Immersion Foot (TIF) also known as ‘Tropical Jungle Foot’ – This is a more serious injury that occurs with continuous exposure to warm water (typically between 22 and 32°C) for three days or longer. Initial symptoms consist of burning sensations, accompanied with increased pain in walking. The affected feet can appear bright red with a visible white line at boot-top, along with excessive swelling around the ankle area.

An additional type of Warm Weather Immersion Injury which is less common is known as Jungle Foot commonly referred to as ‘tropical jungle foot’, ‘jungle rot’ and ‘Paddy Foot’.

Diagnosis and differentiation

Diagnosing WWIF and TIF involves assessing symptoms presented such as pain, swelling, and skin changes on the feet and ankles.

WWIF typically presents with white, wrinkled soles and mild swelling, whereas TIF involves deeper skin changes. Differentiating between the two at the diagnosis stage is crucial in determining the appropriate treatment plan.

Why military personnel are susceptible to warm weather injuries

Military personnel are at an increased risk of sustaining warm weather injuries due to the nature of their duties, which often involve extended periods in wet or humid environments without adequate kit or opportunities for drying and rest.

The impact on military careers

Warm weather injuries poise a greater risk to military careers. Personnel affected by such injuries may experience reduced mobility, pain, and discomfort; affecting their ability to perform essential duties and training, which in hand may affect their prospects of promotion and employability within service. Such limitations can often continue when personnel transition to civilian employment.

Preventative measure and responsibilities of the Ministry of Defence

To mitigate the risk of warm weather injuries personnel should be:

Provided adequate training and education on the risks of water immersion
Provided access to the correct footwear and protective gear designed to minimise exposure to wet conditions
Provided regular drying / changing opportunities during exercises
Inspected and assessed by medics to identify and mitigate injuries

The MoD has a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its personnel. This includes implementing appropriate preventative measures, providing necessary equipment and responding promptly to any reports made regarding a potential injury. By proactively addressing the risk factors associated with warm weather injuries and the like, the likelihood of personnel sustaining an injury can be reduced.

Our experience

In our experience, Military Personnel are not always afforded the opportunity to redry and change kit following wet exposure. A number of our clients have reported an inability to keep their feet dry and described symptoms consistent with that of WWIF and TIF.

This has resulted in the sustainment of a WWIF or TIF injury, implicating personnel’s chances of promotion within service and disadvantaging employability on the labour market on discharge from service resulting financial losses.

Interestingly, medical literature suggests that those suffering with a WWIF or TIF injury are more sensitive to cold exposure, which typically sees those suffering with such an injury to avoid involuntary cold exposure due to pain and discomfort.

Personnel bringing claims with us have described the profound impact these injuries have had on their social lives and subsequently their mental wellbeing. Activities they once cherished such as hiking, running, or simply watching their child play football on a winter’s day, are restricted due to the discomfort experienced.

Common misconceptions

There is often a prevailing misconception that WWIF and TIF injuries are self-inflicted, caused through an individuals’ failure to follow general instructions and guidance. In our experience, this perception is often misleading an unfair, and does not reflect the environmental challenges and resource limitations experienced by those that we represent. It is important to recognise that individuals operating in these demanding conditions are often constrained by inadequate equipment and limited opportunities for necessary rest and recuperation.

Key contact

Nia-Wyn Evans

Senior Associate

Nia-Wyn is a senior associate solicitor with Hugh James. She has specialised in representing military service personnel and veterans bring claims against the Ministry of Defence, with a particular interest in cold related injuries.

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