Winter can be an especially tricky time for safety personnel on home building jobsites. With dangerous conditions outdoors, and hidden hazards inside, working in temperatures below freezing requires a plan.
Working in a cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain optimal temperature. As temperatures drop and wind speed increases, heat leaves the body more rapidly.
Common cold induced injuries include hypothermia, which occurs when skin temperature lowers leading to declining internal body temperature (core temperature) and frostbite which is freezing of the skin and underlying tissues.
This may lead to serious health problems and may even cause death.
While they are often necessary, home builders should always remember that the use of space heaters inside structures presents an elevated fire risk, so be careful while using them.
OSHA also has guidance for workers on jobsites during the winter that includes:
Be aware of weather forecasts. Employers should watch the local weather and check the National Weather Service. If possible, schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
Limit exposure to the elements. Consider breaking up larger projects into smaller tasks or providing short, frequent breaks in a warm environment such as a heated trailer or a tent with portable heaters.
Require proper gear. Employers should require all workers to wear clothing and gear -- including boots, heavy coats, gloves, hats -- that will keep them warm and dry to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
Review work sites every day. Snow and ice on overhangs and rooftops should be regularly cleared to prevent falling to the ground level. Snow can also hide dangerous materials that can fall to a lower level and injure a worker.
Remove snow and ice. Before work is started on a site, employers should ensure snow is removed, salt or sand is put down, and large patches of ice are chipped away. And, no matter how time sensitive the construction job is, workers should avoid working on scaffolding in ice and snow.
Educate workers on the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Supervisors and workers need to know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite so that if anyone shows these signs, they can receive immediate medical attention.
Freezing temperatures require advanced planning, but taking reasonable steps before work can protect workers and projects.