Working construction during the winter presents its own set of hazards. Workplace culture may encourage workers to ignore symptoms related to cold stress injuries, fatigue, or serious issues like trench foot.
If you are hurt on a construction site because of a cold-related injury or any other incident, you are likely eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim. You may also be eligible to file a liability claim against another third-party, such as an equipment manufacturer that makes a product that creates an unacceptably high risk of frostbite.
Reach out to an experienced New York construction accident lawyer to learn more about your options for reclaiming all of your accident losses. Call (212) 741-3800 or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.
Be Aware of Cold Stress Injuries on the Construction Site
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions that “workers should be protected from exposure to cold so that the deep core temperature does not fall below 96.8°F (36°C) and to prevent frostbite to body extremities.”
Cold stress injuries can sneak up on you quickly. Workers may feel warm and sweaty as a result of their labor, but their core body temperature could be dropping. The following are some of the biggest cold stress risks on a construction site.
Hypothermia is a condition where the body’s core temperature drops below safe levels. It can lead to loss of consciousness, nerve system impairment, organ failure, and tissue death. Symptoms of hypothermia can include confusion, agitation, slurred speech, muscle dysfunction, slowed breathing, low heart rate, and blackouts.
Trench foot is a condition that happens when the foot remains wet or sweaty for a prolonged period. This can sap heat energy from the body, causing the body to retract blood from the extremities in response. As a result, the skin and other tissues on the feet can die, causing serious complications if left untreated. Symptoms include numbness, redness, swelling, blisters, and loss of feeling.
Trench foot can occur in temperatures as high as 60 °F, so be sure that workers know to keep their feet dry throughout the day.
Frostbite happens when the temperature of tissues drops to a point where the body completely shuts off blood flow, resulting in the death of the tissues. Common sites for frostbite include fingers, toes, heels, noses, and ears.
A frostbite injury can occur in temperatures above freezing if there is a strong wind chill. Frostbite is more likely when the individual’s core body temperature falls, encouraging the body to withdraw blood flow from the extremities.
Signs of frostbite include numbness, hard-feeling skin, deep red skin with colorless patches, blistering, and delayed pain.
The human body must use up energy to stay warm, so construction workers are at a greater risk of fatigue, strains, or exhaustion while they work. Workers should take regular breaks, stay hydrated, and be sure to wear the proper clothing for conditions.
How to Prevent Cold-Related Injuries
Many tactics can help reduce the risk of a cold-related injury or illness. Some are up to the individual worker, whereas others must be undertaken by supervisors and managing staff.
Wear Weather-Appropriate Clothing
Keeping warm with the help of clothing isn’t just about wearing more layers. These layers must fit comfortably to maintain blood flow, and they must have a small amount of oxygen between them to provide the best insulation capacity.
Workers should start with a warm base layer made from a material that wicks away moisture, such as 100% cotton. Next, add an insulating layer on top of this capable of trapping oxygen and keeping heat close to the body. Outer layers should shield against wind and moisture, up to the point of being waterproof if workers are going to be in snow or sleet. Proper footwear is a must; workers should have waterproof boots and warm socks. They should keep a pair of dry socks handy in case their feet get wet or excessively sweaty during a shift. Head and ear coverings are also necessary for some environments, so workers may need to be provided with a head sock or other means that can be worn along with mandatory safety equipment. Supervisors should educate workers on proper clothing and do spot checks on workers to ensure they have proper protection.
Keep Workers Hydrated While Avoiding Caffeine and Alcohol
There’s nothing that cuts through a cold morning quite like a hot cup of coffee, but workers should be careful to not have more than a few cups. Caffeine raises the heart rate, which can make you feel warmer while constricting blood vessels at the extremities. It’s also a diuretic, meaning you’ll need more-frequent bathroom breaks and risk dehydration. Alcohol has similar risks, on top of adding to the risk of accidents and exhaustion.
Ideally, workers should be furnished with a warm beverage that’s mostly water but perhaps with some sugar mixed in. They should be encouraged to drink this regularly and to avoid drinking too much caffeine on shift.
Provide a Warm Space for Breaks
Breaks will need to be more frequent during extremely cold weather or heavy snow. Watch out for workers doing the most exhausting activities, such as heavy lifting, jackhammering, or strenuous repetitive tasks.
Workers should be given a warm place to restore their core body temperature between breaks. They may also need a change of dry clothes, depending on the conditions. Being cautious is always easier than dealing with an emergency, so exercise diligence to avoid cold stress injuries.
Watch for Slipping Hazards
Ice, melted snow, and general wetness all greatly increase the risk of slip and fall accidents on the construction site. Supervisors will have to survey for slipping hazards and address the risk accordingly. They may need to use sand for traction, de-icing agents, or other means along with regular cleanups to address the risks.
Beware of Exposed Metal
Metal can absorb body heat much more quickly than air, especially when contacting bare skin. Workers should be wary of exposed poles, handrails, equipment components, and other metal contact surfaces that can quickly stick to bare skin or cause a frostbite injury.
Who is liable for cold weather injuries? Talk to a New York construction accident lawyer to find out.
In most cases where a cold-related injury or illness happens on the job, the worker will be able to recover most of their expenses for medical care from a workers’ compensation policy. They can also retrieve partial wage replacement, dependent upon the extent of their disability.
Your injury may have also involved some outside party. A negligent general contractor, careless subcontractor, or defective equipment manufacturer may be liable for your injuries. The key is to have your injury case examined by an experienced New York construction accident attorney.
The Weinstein Law Group wants New Yorkers working in the cold to be safe, and we want them to be able to seek compensation when their safety is put at risk. Learn more about your legal rights and what options you might have following a construction injury when you call (212) 741-3800 or contact us online to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.