With spring right around the corner, people throughout New Jersey look forward to packing away their boots, hats and scarves and welcoming the warmer weather.
Outdoor workers have a particular interest in putting winter weather behind them as freezing temperatures, ice and snow all combine to make conditions at their workplace more uncomfortable as well as hazardous. For those in the construction field, cold weather dangers are particularly dangerous and can be a contributing factor in construction site accidents.
As New Jersey begins to thaw out from another freezing winter, construction workers and their loved ones need to remain vigilant against construction accidents in cold weather that could continue to be an issue when it comes to on-the-job injuries.
Why Are Construction Sites Dangerous in Cold Weather?
Snow, wind, freezing rain and ice all make working at a construction site more difficult and dangerous during the winter months, resulting in increases in construction accident injuries.
According to the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), winter weather makes for slick road conditions, presenting problems for forklifts, dump trucks and other construction vehicles. These same conditions make it more difficult for workers to get traction when working on ladders, lifts and scaffolding or when handling heavy machinery.
In addition to making the worksite more hazardous, freezing temperatures take a toll on workers physically as well. Cold stress refers to environmental factors workers face such as wind speed, dampness and near-freezing temperatures. These elements can combine to drive down skin and body temperatures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), workers and their employers need to be aware of the wind chill factor outside so that they can take the necessary steps to ensure protection against the following types of cold stress:
Immersion/Trench Foot – This condition involves an injury to the feet resulting from prolonged exposure to wet, cold conditions. It does not have to be freezing cold outside for trench foot to happen. It can occur in temperatures as warm as 60 degrees.
Hypothermia – This occurs when one’s overall body temperature drops to below 95 degrees. Though hypothermia is more common at freezing temperatures, it can occur in warmer weather if the worker becomes chilled due to rain, sweat or cold water.
Frostbite – Frostbite occurs due to the freezing of the skin and tissues. It generally happens during below-freezing temperatures. People with reduced blood circulation or those not sufficiently dressed for outside conditions are at an increased risk.
What Are Common Cold Weather Construction Accidents?
According to data on work-related injuries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction accident injuries affect nearly 200,000 workers each year and result in nearly 1,000 fatalities.
Regardless of the time of year, a construction site is a dangerous place. Workers face certain hazards every day while on the job. According to OSHA, four main hazards account for more than half of all construction worker injuries and fatalities. Known as the “Fatal Four,” these hazards are:
Falls – Slick, wet conditions can make falls from scaffolding, ladders and cranes common during winter months, while wet ground conditions can lead to trench and tunnel collapses.
Being struck by an object – Colder temperatures and slippery roads make it more difficult to control vehicles and machinery, while windy conditions can result in crane collapses and falling materials and debris.
Electrocution – Downed trees and power lines due to wind and storms can result in exposed wiring.
Being caught in between objects – Heavy equipment, bulky materials and large loads moving from place to place are all more unstable during wind or wet weather, creating a risk of workers being caught in between and crushed by objects.
What Can Construction Workers Do to Stay Safe in Cold Weather?
The OSHA winter weather safety guide offers the following tips to workers and their employers for preventing construction accidents in cold weather, which can be useful when temperatures drop during the early spring.
- Dress appropriately for cold weather, including wearing insulated, waterproof gloves, work suits and boots.
- Keep extra clothing on hand in case you get wet.
- Drink plenty of warm fluids and take breaks to get in from the cold.
- Carefully monitor your own physical condition as well as that of your co-workers.
- Use protective gear and employ safe work practices as laid out by your employer.
- Develop work plans to identify and eliminate potential cold weather safety hazards.
- Make sure routine maintenance and repairs are done in warmer months.
- Limit time spent outdoors on cold days.
- Monitor workers for cold stress.
- Use relief workers to avoid extra-long shifts.
- Have a reliable means of communication for workers in remote areas.
It is in an employer’s best interests to take steps in preventing construction accidents by following cold weather safety precautions and making sure construction crews’ safety needs are met. Failing to do so may result in an increase in workers’ compensation claims.
If the Worst Happens at a Construction Site, What Are Your Legal Options?
If you or a loved one has suffered construction accident injuries, contact Davis, Saperstein, & Salomon, P.C. Our experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation and construction accident lawyers can advise you on the best course of action to take when it comes to seeking the benefits and compensation you need to recover from your injuries.
We can guide you through the process of filing a New Jersey workers’ compensation claim as well as advise you on filing a lawsuit against a negligent third party.
At Davis, Saperstein, & Salomon, P.C., we provide the kind of caring, compassionate legal service you deserve. Serving Teaneck, New Jersey and the surrounding areas, our office can help. Call or contact us online today for a free consultation.