In the Bronx, the winter weather can get extremely cold and dangerous. Once the wind starts kicking in and bringing the temperatures down even further, construction workers can find themselves in a very dangerous situation. The cold weather presents challenges to both contractors and workers, but there are ways of getting construction work done without putting anyone at risk.
Another part of the frigid weather conversation deals with contractor obligations. How much protection from the cold does a contractor have to offer and does a worker have legal recourse if they are injured due to the cold weather? These can be difficult questions in an area that sees cold weather six months out of the year. However, it is important for workers to know how to protect themselves and the contractor obligation that comes with the temperatures changing.
The Effects Of The Cold On Construction Workers
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has a wide variety of excellent resources construction workers and contractors can use to learn about protection from the cold. As with any health issue, it is important to understand the potential negative effects of frigid temperatures in order to gain a better appreciation as to why it is so important to be vigilant.
The Forgotten Effects
The cold weather is not just a health hazard to workers, but it can be a financial detriment to contractors as well. Cold weather causes workers to become disoriented and slows down productivity. The cold can also have a negative effect on equipment, which could also become a health risk as equipment unexpectedly malfunctions.
For instance, if there are workers who are already impaired by alcohol or drugs, then the cold weather can make that situation even worse. People who are incapacitated by substances already have slower than normal responses to stimulus, and the cold slows down response time even more. Dehydration is an issue with substance abuse, and dehydration also occurs when the cold and dry weather moves in. Contractors should be vigilant about keeping drugs and alcohol out of the workplace all year round, but especially when the weather gets colder.
When you hear the term “cold stress,” it is referring to the more common effects of cold weather. When a worker has been sweating all day and they suddenly get hit by an arctic blast of air, that can cause the worker to become disoriented. Cold stress is also a term used to refer to many of the other conditions you will read in this discussion.
Cold stress is created by the persistent exposure to cold weather without the proper protection, or without the kind of additional resources workers need to battle the weather. For example, having workers dress in layers and having warming areas with hot drinks for workers can be two excellent ways of combating cold stress.
While trench foot can occur in temperatures up to 60 degrees, it is most noticeable during the colder weather. When a worker’s feet are constantly exposed to cold and wet conditions, blisters and sores can start to develop. During the winter, contractors should encourage workers to bring a second pair of socks with them to change into at lunchtime. Keeping their feet warm and dry will help to prevent this painful issue.
One of the most common, and most devastating, conditions that occur in the winter is frostbite. This is a condition that occurs when the fluids in the body actually start to freeze, and that starts to kill off cells at skin level and deeper. In some cases, skin affected by frostbite will turn black as the cells in that area of the body start to die. With frostbite, the fluids in the cells also freeze and this prevents the cells from getting the nourishment they need to survive.
Frostbite is dangerous because if it is not taken care of it can become fatal. It is also possible for a worker to have extremities amputated that have developed extensive frostbite. Contractors need to remind workers that no one gets a medal for working too long in the cold winds and freezing temperatures. Workers need to cover up all exposed skin when they work in the winter, and they need to come in out of the cold on a regular basis.
At some point, a worker who is shivering is experiencing more than just cold temperatures. That shivering worker could be experiencing hypothermia, and they need to be moved to a warm place immediately. Hypothermia occurs when the body is losing heat faster than it can create it. During the winter, hypothermia can occur to anyone who is exposed to extremely low temperatures for long periods of time.
The most immediate signs of hypothermia are uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, and a look of disorientation. If these symptoms are ignored, the cold weather could start to affect the worker’s brain. This is why it is important to get any worker with these symptoms to someplace warm as soon as possible.
The Contractor’s Obligation During Winter
OSHA does not have a list of standard rules it uses to determine if contractors are doing enough to keep workers safe during the winter. However, OSHA does make it mandatory for contractors to do everything within reason to make sure workers are safe and have the resources they need to stay healthy when they are on the job site.
The OSHA rules can sound a bit ambiguous, but there are things contractors can do to make sure that workers are safe during the cold winter months. The most important task contractors can accomplish is to train workers on how to avoid the cold stress conditions we mentioned and stay healthy throughout the winter. Contractors need to encourage workers to wear layers of clothing, and it would even be a good idea for contractors to give out long-sleeve t-shirts and other inexpensive pieces of clothing that workers can wear to stay warm.
The Importance Of Having Winter Weather Policies
Furthermore, contractors need to have policies in place that make it mandatory for workers to look out for each other during the cold weather. If a worker is experiencing what looks like symptoms of cold stress, then fellow workers need to report the problem to a supervisor immediately. Workers also need to be vigilant and keep an eye out for co-workers who may collapse due to the cold and do what they can to offer aide.
All contractors should have cold weather policies in place that involve not working due to strong winds, extreme cold, or snow. If workers are asked to come into work during blizzard conditions, then that puts workers at risk for injury and contractors at risk for lawsuits. Contractors should work with unions and labor groups to allow for Saturday to be a work day during the weeks where the weather forced work to be stopped. The more a contractor can do to keep working conditions safe during the winter, the less chance that contractor will have for OSHA fines and other legal issues.
The Bronx is known for its cold winter weather, and contractors working throughout New York City need to be ready when the winter hits. By having strong policies in place about working conditions and winter weather training, contractors can do their part to keep workers safe and healthy. By wearing layers and being aware of the dangers of working in the cold, workers can make sure that they are healthy when it comes time to work in the warm spring weather.