The onset of cold weather during the winter season means contractors and their employees should take extra precautions when working outdoors, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Workers need to understand the conditions of the environment they’re working in,” said Tim Janus, workforce development director for the Associated General Contractors of America Maine chapter. He relates workers’ knowledge of what to do in cold weather to their knowledge of road construction site conditions.
“If you know what happens when a speeding car hits you, you are not apt to stand in front of a speeding car,” Janus said.
Janus said contractors in Maine, where winter typically brings temperatures of 20 degrees below zero and wind chills of minus 40, watch for combinations of cold, wet and windy conditions.
“Add those three together and they’ll kill you,” he said of the worst circumstances.
Janus recommends contractors teach their employees about proper layering of clothing – cotton should be ditched for polypropylene, which retains warmth when wet – and signs of hazardous health conditions, such as frost bite.
OSHA said some of the danger signs for health in cold weather include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. Janus and OSHA recommend workers call for help if these signs are observed. “Watch fellow employees,” Janus said.
To reduce your risk of frostbite, dress properly in cold temperatures, according to the medical Web site, WebMD.com. This includes protecting your hands, feet, nose and ears.
WebMD.com also recommends wearing warm, layered clothing, a hat and scarf (or a ski mask), warm socks and mittens (not gloves). Go inside periodically to warm up. Wet clothing or skin can increase your risk of frostbite.
Jim Benike, treasurer for general contractor Alvin E. Benike in Rochester, Minn., deals with cold weather for nearly half the year. His company employs more than 100 construction workers who work outdoors throughout the year.
Benike said Minnesota winter temperatures typically fall to 10 degrees below zero. He said the company would often forgo work in those conditions, depending on the wind chill.
Aside from the usual clothing advice, Benike said workers must be aware of their footing while on the jobsite in freezing weather. Puddles and frost on metal can create precarious environments, especially when workers are limited in their mobility by heavy layers of clothing, he said.
“I can’t really recall in my whole [work] history there being a frostbite injury,” he said. “I can recall a lot of those [slips and falls] though.”
OSHA tips to protect workers in cold environments
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