There's no doubt that construction work is a challenging profession. But it can be even more difficult during the winter months, when inclement weather can make working conditions tough and hazardous.
In New York winters, adding an extra layer of clothing or toting along some extra gloves is smart thinking so you can avoid frostbite.
In this blog post, we'll provide you with a guide on five common winter construction site hazards and how to stay safe during winter construction work. We'll also highlight some of the most common hazards you may encounter, and offer tips on how to prevent them.
1. Injury From Cold Stress
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 1,300 deaths per year occurred from 1999 to 2011 due to exposure to excessive natural cold. New York City temps often hit the 20-degree Fahrenheit range in winter and occasionally below. Factor in wind chills and the result is extreme cold.
Top cold stress-related injuries to be aware of include:
While Jack Frost did great with the cold, human beings don't if they aren't prepared. Frostbite can cause permanent injury, including the loss of fingers, toes, or other serious damage. Be sure to layer up, carry a heavy coat, and have extra pairs of socks and gloves. If too much exposure to a construction worker occurs, be sure they are immediately warmed and get medical treatment ASAP.
Normal body temperature is 98.6F, and when a person’s temperature drops under 95F, it could lead to unconsciousness and death. Warning signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, confusion, slurred speech, slowed breathing, and a loss of coordination. Anyone suffering this injury should have wet clothing removed and then wrapped up snugly in layers of blankets, along with a vapor barrier (tarp or a garbage bag works well). This is an emergency situation – seek emergency assistance immediately.
Trench foot Injury
When feet are exposed to prolonged wetness and cold temperatures, the body begins to constrict blood vessels and circulation to the feet shuts down. Workers affected by this serious situation often experience redness, numbness, swelling, and blisters. Wet socks and boots should be removed immediately, feet thoroughly dried, and feet elevated.
To avoid cold stress-related injuries, construction workers should always dress warmly, stay dry, and keep hydrated. If barriers to block out cold winds can be erected, this helps to reduce exposure to the cold. When all workers have a firm understanding of the different types of cold stress injuries and associated symptoms, they can take precautions and, in the event of an emergency, take quick action.
"Construction workers should work in pairs so they can keep an eye on one another and watch for warning signs. This is always a good practice to follow."
Andrew Levine, New York Construction Accident Lawyer, Raphaelson & Levine
2. Wet Slips and Falls
New York winters are not only cold, but they’re also typically wet. Between snow, rain, ice, and sleet, there is a strong chance every construction worker will encounter a slippery situation on a regular basis. Injuries from wet slips and falls can lead to traumatic brain injury, fractured bones, and torn muscles, along with injuries to the head, spinal cord, back, and/or neck. Workers’ daily routines should include the cleaning of or reporting conditions to employers where snow and ice are present. Here are some good practices:
- Wet and slippery areas treated with a de-icers, even areas that look “just wet” could really be black ice.
- Areas with snow shoveled off.
- Scaffolding inspected to ensure it’s safe to use.
- Wet spills quickly wiped up before they freeze.
- Workers wear water-resistant boots with good rubber treads.
- Safety lines used when working at any level of elevation.
- Taking shorter and slower steps when working around wet surfaces.
- Avoid carrying heavy loads so an even balance can be maintained.
Being proactive about wet surfaces can go a long way towards the prevention of injury or worse, especially in adverse weather conditions.
3. Falling ice debris
Winters in New York often see dozens of inches of snow per month. During these winters, or even from the sporadic heavy snowstorm, heavy snow can accumulate. Below freezing temperatures often create chunks of ice and long icicles resting upon or hanging on buildings.
Snow and ice droppings from buildings, especially from high-rises, bridges, cell towers, scaffolding, and overpasses, can lead to serious injury. Always be aware of any hazardous potentials relating to snow and ice when working on a site. A half-pound icicle with a three-inch diameter can fall at a whopping rate of 80-90 mph. If a worker is struck, it can lead to serious injury, including traumatic brain injury, especially when ices drops from high elevations.
4. Snow removal injuries
Every year, thousands of people in the U.S. are treated for snow-removal related injuries. Workers tasked with removing snow from rooftops, decks, scaffolding, sidewalks, parking lots, and other areas should be aware of potential hazards.
- Ladders not firmly secured. Even in the summer, there is always a risk of a ladder-related injury, and, in winter, this risk increases because of slippery surfaces. Always be certain the ladder is on dry, steady ground when removing snow and ice from elevated surfaces.
- Beware of heavy snow that can slide off a roof onto surfaces where workers are present.
- Be on the alert to any power lines, power sources, or other situations where shock or electrocution could occur if it comes into contact with a shovel.
- Be mindful of the strong potential of sustaining muscle and back injuries when doing snow removal. Use proper posture and don’t work at a frenzied pace.
- Use long-handled snow rakes when removing snow on elevated surfaces, such as roofs or upper floor areas.
Snow removal is a necessary task, but by taking preventative action, many common injuries can be better avoided.
5. Carbon monoxide poisoning
Unfortunately, carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas not easily detected because it is odorless and colorless. Exposure can be deadly – every year hundreds of people in the U.S. die from CO poisoning. When temperatures drop, the risks associated with CO exposure significantly increase because workers often tend to try to finish tasks indoors or work in covered spaces that may not be properly ventilated.
- Fires built-in poorly ventilated areas.
- Use of small gasoline-powered engines and tools in enclosed spaces.
- Generators used in areas that aren’t well-ventilated.
- Motor vehicle exhaust in closed garages.
Symptoms of CO poisoning include drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, and tightening in the chest. As illness sets in, new symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness can occur.
To avoid injuries associated with carbon monoxide exposure, always turn off equipment when not in use, spread awareness of how serious CO poisoning is, use manual or electric equipment substitutes for gas equipment when working in enclosed spaces, and don’t sit in garages with vehicles running. Be sure generators are properly vented, and workers performing work where a higher risk of CO exposure exists have personal CO monitors so they can be alerted if there is a spike of this deadly gas present.
The attorneys at Raphaelson & Levine understand the serious winter construction risks workers in New York face.
"If you, or a loved one, have been injured while on a job site, the law firm of Raphaelson & Levine is here for you. We’ll help you to evaluate the situation and make sure you receive justice for any negligence leading to your injury and compensation to cover your injuries and suffering.
Andrew Levine, New York Construction Accident Lawyer, Raphaelson & Levine