January 4, 2023
Cold Weather Construction Accidents in NYC
By Jonathan Damashek
Construction is already a dangerous occupation in New York, and the risks only increase when cold weather is added to the mix. And while cold weather and icy conditions are common hazards that NY construction workers must deal with, it’s critical to understand the dangers, an injured employee’s rights, and how to handle a cold weather-related construction accident properly.
The Dangers of Cold Weather on Construction Sites
Cold weather conditions can have a significant and often detrimental effect on construction workers’ health. Hopefully, we can prevent serious injuries and untimely deaths by identifying these ailments and understanding their root causes.
Some typical health problems that NYC construction workers face when working in the cold include:
Cold Stress Injuries
Someone could suffer from cold stress when the body can no longer maintain its average temperature. As the body works to keep the core warm, blood flow moves from the skin, hands, feet, and legs, causing them to cool.
Cold stress can be tied to other cold-weather ailments, like hypothermia or frostbite.
In frigid weather, or if someone is appropriately bundled up, it’s possible their skin, muscles, blood vessels, or nerves can freeze, with ice crystals forming to block blood flow.
Frostbite is primarily irreversible, and victims generally have their afflicted limbs, hands, ears, or noses amputated. A victim can suffer chronic pain if their frostbite isn’t amputated.
The person has entered hypothermia when the body experiences an extreme drop in internal temperature, usually below 95º Fahrenheit. Cooled sweat or working in wet and cold conditions could lead to hypothermia.
Victims are generally disoriented, experiencing increased difficulty in realizing what’s happening and properly reacting.
This condition is also sometimes described as “immersion foot,” and it typically happens when a body part is soaked in water just above freezing temperature. For instance, someone working in the cold, standing water for long periods without proper footwear could experience trench foot.
The afflicted area swells, becoming chronically weak, and becomes sensitive to cold. If left untreated, trench foot victims could develop blisters or loose skin.
Slips and Falls
Slips are some of the most prominent injuries for construction sites in normal conditions, but icy and cold conditions add another element of risk. Slick scaffolding or other surfaces on a job site can increase the odds of slip and fall accidents when the proper precautions aren’t taken.
Weather conditions like snow, sleet, ice, or hail can leave a job site unsafe for construction workers.
Heavy Machinery and Vehicle Accidents
Just as icy road conditions can affect passenger vehicles, severe cold weather can make driving or using heavy machinery on a construction site especially hazardous. Without traction, it’s easy to lose control of a vehicle, and any negligence can be exaggerated, resulting in serious injuries or damages.
Building in icy conditions can be challenging because some processes, like pouring concrete, aren’t as effective as when completed in better conditions. Concrete poured in icy conditions might not cure or set correctly, making structures weak, which could lead to collapse.
Cold Weather Accidents & Injured Workers’ Rights
When construction workers are hurt on the job, they’ll likely be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits no matter who or what caused the accident. However, an injured construction worker can sometimes sue third parties and their employer if the negligence resulted in injuries or damages.
For instance, if the employer or job site manager did not clear away ice from the site that leads to a slip, there could be a compensation case. If vehicles were not prepared for cold weather and someone on the site was injured, damages could be pursued. In cases where the foreman failed to keep the job site warm enough, and you suffered frostbite or hypothermia from unnecessary over-exposure, you may have a claim.
Liability for Cold Weather Construction Accidents
However, knowing where liability truly lies for a cold weather-related accident is critical because not every employer or contractor will be deemed liable for a construction site accident related to the cold. For instance, injuries caused by equipment damaged by cold weather might not qualify if the equipment was used outside its intended uses or safety margins.
In addition to New York Labor Laws 200 and 241, the construction industry adheres to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards on weather-related worker safety. Essentially, OHSA does not dictate how to work safely in the cold, but it does outline the protections that should be in place in cold conditions, like a NYC construction site in the winter.
How to Minimize the Risk of Cold Weather Construction Accidents
To mitigate risk and reduce the chance of a severe injury on the job site in winter months, here are ways construction workers can prepare for the cold weather:
- Wear layers: wearing layers of loose-fitting clothing can improve insulation. Make sure to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards
- Cover up: Limit exposure to prevent losing heat or the threat of frostbite
- Stay dry: have spare clothing to change into should your clothes become wet, either from sweat, snow, or ice
- Plan for breakdowns: Be ready for if your vehicle breaks down in cold weather by packing dry clothes, blankets, or emergency supplies
- Emergency professionals: keep emergency services’ information on hand. Know who to call if there’s an emergency
- Work together: keep an eye on other construction workers to watch for signs of hypothermia or cold-inflicted confusion
- Warm liquids: keep warm drinks and soups on hand throughout the workday to stave off dehydration and stay warmer
A New York Construction Accident Attorney Can Help
If you or a loved one were injured or killed because of cold weather conditions on the worksite, you should discuss your options and pursue the compensation you deserve. Hecht, Kleeger & Damashek, P.C., are the New York construction accident lawyers to help you in your case.
Our attorneys have the knowledge to assign liability, find evidence, and build your case to ensure the maximum compensation available to you. You can call us at (212) 490-5700 or use our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.