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Winter Work Days on Construction Sites Hold Unique Dangers

Jason Reese

Construction is a dangerous business, and the risk construction workers face each day is probably greatly underestimated by the general public. And while it’s winter, and the rest of us are doing our best to stay out of frigid temperatures, construction workers continue to do their jobs on some work sites. Most people think all construction sites shut down for the winter, but that simply isn’t true. Weather may delay work, but on many days, construction workers head to their work sites just like every other day. Unlike other days, winter workdays have an added set of risks for those who are doing outdoor, labor-intensive jobs.

Construction Workers Face Great Risks Year Round

Most people probably have some idea that construction is a dangerous career to pursue, but I doubt many would guess exactly how negative the long-term health implications are for a lifetime construction worker. One study provides evidence that a 45-year career in construction results in a 75% chance of suffering a disabling injury. That same career construction worker has a 1/200 likelihood of being killed while on the job. In short, hundreds of thousands of the 1.5 million construction workers in the United States are risking their lives one day at a time.

Injuries resulting from serious winter construction accidents are likely to permanently change the life of the victim, as well as his or her family members. The impact of a construction accident can leave a worker with a traumatic brain injury, paralysis, blunt force trauma, including internal injuries, and many other kinds of injury.

Winter Weather Construction Risks

A majority of the dangers facing construction workers during winter are, more or less, the same dangers facing any one of us during the winter. That said, the impact on construction workers can be much more severe due to repeated exposure to risk and the industrial environment of a construction site. These hazards include:

Cold Stress, described by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a group of serious cold-related illnesses and injuries (such as trench foot, frostbite, frost nip, chilblains, and hypothermia) that occur when cold temperatures, wetness, and/or wind create a situation where the skin temperature is driven down and eventually the internal body temperature follows. When this happens, the body becomes unable to warm itself, leaving victims vulnerable to permanent tissue damage or even death. There are around 1300 cold-related deaths each year, and many of those individuals are in situations where they are caught off-guard in bad weather. Construction workers may have the benefit of preparation, but their risks remain high due to the lengthy time spent laboring in the cold.

Exertion Injuries can be as simple as overexerting your musculoskeletal system when your body is cold, resulting in muscle strains, ligament tears, or other related injuries; however, the American Heart Association also warns that the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks or strokes is amplified by heavy or sudden exertion outdoors during the winter season. This danger is even higher for those with known cardiovascular disease.

Slips and Falls are certainly a common winter hazard for us all, but winter construction accidents are an entirely different story. Sidewalks are icy, and the floors just inside entryways to most building are wet. Imagine though, if you had to take that icy walk 100 feet (or more!) in the air. Picture yourself walking through a construction site full of obstacles, construction materials, and heavy machinery…there are many potential disasters that could result from a fall in the wrong place. A construction worker can suffer a head injury, brain injury, broken bones, or worse if he or she slips and hits his or her head on a hard object. A slip and fall while operating machinery or while working near large machinery could result in terrible injuries, such as limb amputation, crushing injuries leaving internal damage, puncture wounds, or even death.

Electrocution risks are greater when there are wet conditions, and certainly winter construction sites will see many damp days. Though there are standard best practices to avoid serious electrocution risks during wet weather, this is still a concern construction workers must face.

Construction Worker Protections

All workers, and certainly all construction workers, deserve to feel and be safe whenever in the work environment. Your employer must provide key safety information about the workplace, including copies of any standards, rules, regulations, requirements, and results of hazard testing. In addition, you should never feel unable to or unsafe in reporting or discussing violations. Retaliation by an employer or other employees for speaking up is not allowed under the law.

If you are a construction worker and you feel unsafe at ever feel unsafe at work, you have every right to pursue answers and change to lower your risk of injury. OSHA would be one of your primary first contacts (beyond your own company) in this case. They may be able to help you in a couple of ways: they can inspect your workplace or they can provide you with training or information aimed at minimizing risk and serious injury. Workers who speak a language other than English have a right to receive such info or treatment in a language they understand.

In the case of a serious construction site accident, whether in winter or another season, the injured worker (or his or her family in some cases) will need to choose what kind of claim to pursue based on the circumstances. Obviously, workers’ compensation applies in most cases where an employee is injured at work. If someone other than the victim’s employer is fully or partially liable for the accident and injury, a personal injury claim may be a good option. Compensation is often higher than in workers’ compensation cases.

A product liability claim may be an option in situations when a piece of construction equipment, safety gear, or some other work site tool purchased by the company causes injury due to defect or poor design. All three kinds of claims are available to construction site victims, regardless of their role (carpenter, electrician, crane operator, sheet metal worker, welder, heavy equipment operator, etc.).

There are even instances when a wrongful death claim would be appropriate and allowed. The attorneys at Wagner Reese will be happy to provide you with a free initial consultation to begin the discussion of which choice will give the best odds of recouping damages from the injury sustained. Call us today to discuss your winter construction site accident: (888) 204-8440.

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