By Jessica Guay

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa. (KDKA) – With the arrival of the coldest temperatures of the season, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is calling on employers to make sure their employees who work outside are safe.

“It was probably around 10 degrees this morning,” said John Picard, a lead carpenter at J. Francis Company, LLC., on Tuesday.

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Construction workers and remodeling crews have been bundling up and firing up their power tools because they aren’t getting a day off when temperatures are frigid.

“You kind of put it into the back of your mind and just keep moving,” Picard said.

J. Francis Company is a remodeling company based in Pittsburgh’s North Side. They had employees at jobs around the Pittsburgh region on Tuesday.

With four layers of clothing on, Picard and his crew stayed busy working on a project outside of a home in Venetia. He said they keep a kerosene space heater close by, just in case.

“We turn it off and on if you need to get your hands warm and take a few minutes to get warmed up and get right back to doing what you’re doing,” Picard said. “I check in with the guys and make sure everybody is feeling OK and have them get warmed up periodically.”

Firefighters also brave the cold when putting out fires. The assistant chief of the North Strabane Fire Department, Rich Yosi, said they deal with water freezing on equipment and personnel.

“We’re always looking out for each other when we’re on a scene. And when we’re on calls like this, they become very manpower-intensive because we have to circulate the personnel through and re-warm them and get them thawed out so they can get back to work,” Yosi said.

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OSHA is calling on employers to train their workers on how to prevent and recognize symptoms of cold stress, including hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. The agency is spreading this message because cold temperatures and increased wind speeds can cause heat to leave the body very quickly.

“Make sure you schedule some breaks in the day so workers can find some warm areas to warm back up. And make sure you’re monitoring each other. Sometimes it’s important to make sure you’re looking out for your fellow coworkers,” said Christopher Robinson, area director of the Pittsburgh OSHA office

OSHA shared a list of cold stress symptoms to look out for: hypothermia moderate to severe symptoms include shivering stops; confusion; slurred speech; heart rate/breathing slow; loss of consciousness; death. Trench foot symptoms can be redness, swelling, numbness, and blisters. Frostbite symptoms include numbness, reddened skin develops gray/white patches, feels firm/hard, and may blister.

“Frostbite can set in pretty quickly, especially in your fingers or your toes. So being aware if you start to lose feeling, as soon as that starts, it’s time to cycle out, get additional manpower and move that personnel to warm places,” Yosi said.

Picard said workers should keep this in mind when they get cold on the job.

“The heat is in the tools,” he said. “It means the harder you’re working, the warmer you’re going to be.”

If OSHA needs to address a situation where cold stress is a concern, the agency has the “General Duty Clause” it can use for enforcement.

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Yosi said everyone should be mindful when outdoors in frigid temperatures, not just workers. He said to limit exposure time and get indoors as soon as possible.