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As snow begins to build up in some areas of the country, jobsite safety hazards may be disguised by wintry conditions. "Winter weather can present extreme safety challenges for those working in the home building industry on jobsites, both outside and within the structure," says Jonathan Falk, field specialist, disaster relief at the NAHB.

While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have a specific standard for working in cold environments, the OSH Act of 1970 says employers have a duty to protect workers from hazards that could result in cold stress, trench foot, frostbite, or hypothermia. OSHA’s winter weather materials share risk factors, symptoms of cold-related illness, and preparedness tips.

To help builders keep workers and jobsites safe during snowy and freezing temps, Falk shares these tips:

  • Stay aware of weather forecasts. Keeping track of the forecast for the day is the first step for keeping your workers warm. A worst-case scenario is that an employer sends workers out to a jobsite the day a blizzard blows into town. 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. When the wind and snow are blowing and temperatures are dangerously low, schedule outside work in shorter time blocks. Also 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. Working outside during the winter requires the right gear for the job, including boots, heavy coats, gloves, hats, and other essentials based on the weather. Employers should require all workers to wear clothing that will keep them warm and dry to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Dressing too warm for conditions can also cause problems, as sweat can result in wet clothes, that can in turn drop a worker’s body temperature quickly. It is a good idea to encourage dressing in layers with a base layer of moisture-wicking fabrics to better handle temperature fluctuations and keep workers safe throughout the day, no matter the temperature. Having a variety of gloves of multiple thicknesses on site can help workers accomplish different tasks while staying warm. This can also encourage the changing of wet gloves, as wet gloves can make fingers especially more susceptible to frostbite. Finally, don’t forget sunglasses and sunscreen as snow can reflect harmful UV rays that can damage the skin and eyes.
  • Review worksites every day. Any kind of debris can pose a risk in work environments; however, it is particularly true for winter construction. 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. If a project does require the use of special equipment or ladders and there are any doubts about frozen ground or the stability of the terrain, consider delaying work until conditions improve.
  • Remove snow and ice. Before work is started on a site, employers should ensure that snow is removed, sand is put down throughout walkways, and large patches of ice are chipped away. Sand is an inexpensive and effective way to help prevent slipping when spread along jobsite paths. Be aware that salt or other chemical de-icers could inadvertently cause damage to your building materials. Always check with the manufacturer before use to ensure the product does not damage or weaken the material. No matter how time sensitive the construction job is, workers should avoid working on scaffolding in ice and snow.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation. When working on the inside of structures during winter months, ensure that there is adequate ventilation for carbon monoxide or chemical fumes. Sources of carbon monoxide can include anything that uses combustion to operate, such as portable generators, space heaters, power tools, compressors, pumps, welding equipment, furnaces, gas-powered forklifts, and motorized vehicles. To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide exposure on the jobsite, employers should install an effective ventilation system, avoid the use of fuel-burning equipment and vehicles in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces, and use carbon monoxide detectors in areas where the hazard may exist.
  • Inspect and prepare vehicles. Before heading into the winter, all work vehicles should be inspected to determine if they are fully functioning. Employers should also add winter emergency kits to work vehicles that include an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, tow chain, flashlight with extra batteries, emergency flares, a blanket, snacks, and water.
  • Educate workers on the signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Even when employers do everything to protect workers, issues can still arise. 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.