We know what you’re thinking: you’re a home builder in Durango or Pagosa Springs—you’re well aware of what it’s like to work in cold weather.  And you know what to do about it.

But maybe you don’t realize there’s an official term for the danger winter weather can present, and that under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, you have a duty to protect your workers.  Here’s what you need to know.

Cold Stress

OSHA uses the term “cold stress” to describe the risk to the human body of prolonged exposure.  Cold stress occurs when weather drives the temperature of the skin down, eventually leading to reduced temperature inside the body.  Workers who spend time outdoors in very chilly weather are at even greater risk on windy, wet days.  Both conditions facilitate heat loss.  When the body is no longer able to keep itself adequately warm, serious injury can occur.

Risk Factors

Aside from the weather itself, certain workers may be at greater risk than others.  Those facing additional danger may be:

  • Builders with health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes
  • Tradespeople who are not in great physical condition
  • Workers who are new to the area and unexperienced in the cold

Possible Injuries

OSHA details three leading problems builders in Southwest Colorado may suffer if they’re not vigilant when working in cold weather:

  • Hypothermia: The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) explains that hypothermia—abnormally low body temperature—occurs when you lose heat from your body faster than you can produce it. Prolonged exposure uses up energy stores and results in a medical emergency.  Signs are uncontrollable shivering and impaired brain function (memory loss, confusion, poor coordination, and exhaustion).
  • Frostbite: Frostbite, says OSHA, is when the skin and tissues underneath actually freeze. Watch for tingling, aching, loss of sensation and reddened skin or white patches in the feet and exposed areas like the ears and nose.
  • Trench Foot: Not just for soldiers, trench foot can develop when construction workers’ feet are wet and cold for periods of time.  Reddened skin, tingling, cramps, swelling, and other symptoms can occur even if temperatures are not extremely low because wet feet lose heat so quickly.

Prevent these Problems

Health issues resulting from cold weather are on the list of hazards employers need to guard against for their workers, according to OSHA.  Depending on the makeup of your La Plata and Archuleta home building crews, the organization recommends you:

  • Train workers on how to recognize and prevent cold stress. It’s a good idea to remind your crew to consider whether they have underlying conditions that might contribute to extra risk, and to see you privately if they have concerns they want you to know.
  • Take steps to ensure the risks of cold stress are minimized. These might include providing warm, sweet beverages like hot chocolate, scheduling frequent warming breaks, and using the buddy system.

Further Measures

If appropriate for your winter jobs, you may want to have a warming kit on hand for emergencies.  This could mean blankets, plastic sheeting, dry clothing, and warm packs to place in the armpits, sides of the torso, and groin areas.  Having one or more people trained in CPR and basic first aid is always advisable too, not just in cold weather.

The National Weather Service has a wind chill chart you can print out and a calcluator you may want to capture on one of your devices.  Find them here.

Of course, the first step in any situation dangerous to a worker’s health is to call 911.  Here at the HBASC, we hope you never have to do that.

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