Avoiding weather-related injuries during winter construction work

Construction workers and employers should be familiar with the measures that can prevent wintertime accidents and injuries, such as falls and cold stress.

Winter weather can produce numerous hazards for New York City residents, from slippery sidewalks to challenging driving conditions. Unfortunately, for construction workers, such hazards are often also present on the jobsite, which can already be a dangerous place. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction leads all industries in New York in terms of workplace fatalities. This makes it crucial for employers and workers to know how to minimize the risks that come with winter construction work.

Hazard removal

Winter weather can cause various conditions that make construction site accidents more likely, including ice on walking surfaces, snow accumulation on rooftops and downed power lines. Each day, a supervisor should inspect the site thoroughly for these hazards before any work begins. All snow and ice should be removed, and salt or sand should be placed to reduce the risk of slip-and-fall injuries.

Appropriate gear

Employers should outfit workers with equipment that is designed for use in cold, wet weather, and they should train workers on dressing properly for these conditions. Employees should always wear at least three layers, including a moisture-wicking base layer and a ventilated outer layer. The use of gloves, hats, knit masks and waterproof boots is also frequently advisable.

Sensible scheduling

Employers should also aim to schedule work in a way that minimizes risk to their employees. Work involving cold weather exposure should be scheduled on mild days or during the warmest part of each day, and worsening weather conditions should be monitored closely. Workers who are new to the job or returning from time off should be given lighter shifts so that they can acclimate to the cold conditions.

Warm breaks

To minimize exposure to the elements, employers should always provide a warm space, such as a tent filled with space heaters, where workers can warm up. Workers should take short and frequent breaks throughout each shift. To help workers recover from the cold, employers may also want to provide hot beverages, although diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol should be avoided.

Employee education

Employers should teach workers to recognize symptoms of cold stress, which occurs when cold conditions cause skin and body temperatures to drop dangerously low. Cold stress can lead to various work-related injuries, including the following:

· Frostbite, which occurs when the skin and underlying tissue freeze. Frostbite may be signified by numbness or the development of hard gray and white patches on the skin.

· Hypothermia, which develops when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Hypothermia can cause uncontrollable shivering, issues with coordination, disorientation, unconsciousness and death.

· Trench foot, which occurs when the feet are submerged in water in cold temperatures and the body restricts circulation. This causes numbness, blistering, inflammation and eventual tissue death.

Besides monitoring their own health closely, employees should always work in pairs and check one another for signs of these conditions.

Unfortunately, these precautions may not be enough to prevent all wintertime accidents and injuries on construction sites. People who have suffered such injuries may benefit from meeting with a workers' compensation attorney to review their options for seeking recompense.