Winter Work is Welcome, But Dangerous to Crews

The fact is, building crews working in true four-season locations in winter months do not have fun.

Mon November 24, 2014 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

Everyone has a favorite fire-barrel story. Tales are often told about shivering in the chill of a winter work day, gloved hands hovering in the vicinity of a scrap-lumber fire, and booted feet stomping to encourage blood circulation in seemingly frozen toes. The temperature usually drops about five degrees with each retelling of the story. “How cold was it? It was so cold…”

A young framing carpenter spoke the other day about working in minus-45-degree temperatures in Alberta, Canada. As he shared the experience with his listener, he smiled—the characteristic demeanor of winter workplace “survivors.” Bad times become good in retrospect.

The fact is, building crews working in true four-season locations in winter months do not have fun. Winter work is dangerous. Bitter winds and below- or near-freezing temperatures are true hazards to a human being. Couple that with unforgivingly hard ground underfoot and menacing steel booms, tracks, hammers, and buckets all around, and human beings who wear hard hats in the winter run the real risk of becoming statistics.

Office crews have a different set of risks. Job estimators in the winter must factor in reduced efficiencies as they work up bids. In their calculations, they have to account for engines starting reluctantly or not at all, laborers moving between assigned tasks and warm-up locations on job sites, and materials being delayed by winter storms. Superintendents have a whole seasonal load of new responsibilities associated with fighting the elements.

Every employer should take seasonal precautions to protect their employees. Things like making sure scaffolds and safety harnesses function properly when the steel bolts and rivets are under the stress of cold, maintaining heater units, and positioning crews to work safely when bundled and muffled and otherwise dangerously insulated against the movement of construction machinery.

Best wishes to contractors working this winter. It is great to have the work. It will be even greater to reach spring without loss of life or fingers.