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Preparation, breaks and sugar key to beating the bitter cold

Construction crews working outdoors during frigid temperatures may find it in their best interests to pack a few Christmas cookies in their lunch pails. A snow covered excavator sits idle Wednesday as the morning rush passes by in a portion of the Zoo Interchange project located in the city of Milwaukee. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

A snow-covered excavator sits idle Wednesday as morning rush-hour traffic passes through the Zoo Interchange west of downtown Milwaukee. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Construction crews working outdoors during frigid temperatures may find it in their best interests to pack a few Christmas cookies in their lunch pails.

No, this advice is not about getting into the festive holiday spirit.

George Gruetzmacher, an industrial hygiene consultant at the Wisconsin Onsite Consultation program, said that a sugary snack such as a protein bar or sports drink can help workers stay warm. This is because those snacks’ sugar content will boost their bodies’ ability to consume energy, he said.

Sugary snacks are not something Gruetzmacher would normally recommend. But, for the sake of workplace safety, he makes an exception for people working outside in the winter — as long as they maintain a healthy diet the rest of the year.

It’s one of the many recommendations Gruetzmacher and the Wisconsin Onsite Consultation program, also known as WisCon, have for workers who find themselves outside during spats of cold weather.

Another more obvious recommendation is to dress in warm clothes. Gruetzmacher called for swapping cotton clothing for wool, which provides better insulation than its more lightweight counterpart. Mittens are also much better than gloves because they leave the fingers less exposed.

Gruetzmacher’s advice came during a week that has seen some particularly chilly temperatures. Arctic air swept through the Midwest starting on Tuesday, bringing with it sub-zero conditions in parts of Wisconsin.

The national weather service issued winter-chill advisories for the entire state Thursday; snow is coming Friday and Saturday. In the Milwaukee area, wind-chill values were predicted to drop to between 20 and 28 degrees below zero.

Despite plunging thermometers, the crews building a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks in the city’s downtown have continued working throughout the week. This is not to say, though, that they haven’t been taking extraordinary steps to stay warm and safe.

The Milwaukee office of Golden Valley, Minn.-based Mortenson Construction is the construction manager for the $524 million arena. Ryan Olsen, safety manager on the arena project, said Mortenson was planning as early as this fall for the coming winter.

“We expect all our job sites to have a winter-conditions management plan,” he said.

People fight the wind while walking along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday. If the frigid temperatures aren’t enough, snow is headed our way on Friday and Saturday. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

People fight the wind while walking along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday. If the frigid temperatures aren’t enough, snow is headed our way on Friday and Saturday. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Not too far away from the arena site, the crews building the Westin Milwaukee hotel near the city’s lakefront were taking similar steps.

Madison-based J.H. Findorff & Son is overseeing that project. Mike Novak, the Findorff superintendent for the Westin, said crewmembers are usually cycled between indoor and outdoor work settings on the coldest days.

Besides safety, Novak and others must also be aware of how frigid weather can affect certain building materials. Caulk, for instance, doesn’t hold up as well.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists has developed various four-hour work schedules that it recommends employers follow when scheduling work breaks or deciding when to stop performing non-emergency work. The schedules take into account both air temperatures and wind speeds.

For example, when outdoor temperatures are between minus-15 and minus-19 degrees with wind speeds at 10 mph, workers should only work outside for up to 75 minutes at a time, and should get two breaks every four hours. Even when there is no wind at all, temperatures below negative-45 degrees should result in a halt of all non-emergency work.

The schedules can be found on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website.

“This is the edge of emergency work,” Gruetzmacher said of the schedules’ temperatures. “This is really when you shouldn’t do anything (outdoors).”

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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