DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Cold air weighed on the lungs like concrete as construction workers ascended the tight metal staircase inside the icy steel shell that is to become Bucks County's $84 million justice center.
Seven dozen men, each wrapped in three to four layers of cotton and wool, entered the job site Friday. The recorded temperature: 19 degrees.
"The cold gets to you just as soon as you get out of your car in the morning," said John Gauntt of Bensalem, who had another eight hours of rigging steel on the fifth and sixth floors of the new justice center that day.
"You're still cold and there's nothing you can do to stop it," he said. There's also little complaining about it on this Friday morning. Most said they just put it out of their minds.
Crews are forging ahead on Main Street in Doylestown as Bucks County tries to make up for lost time on its largest construction project. Construction fell more than two months behind schedule last year as crews struggled to stabilize a historic armory building on the site. The eight-story justice center is due to be completed sometime in 2014.
On Wednesday, the county commissioners approved a series of change orders for the project. Among them, the county's general services department said it will spend $81,882 on winter concrete, temporary heaters and enclosures for the workers who must function in the cold temperatures.
"Right now, it's so cold that we're not able to pour concrete," said Gerry Anderson, director of general services for Bucks.
"The masons are having issues with the cold weather. The electricians and carpenters are still working though," he said. "The wind plays havoc, but these guys are tough."
John Lee of Sellersville said he just tries not to think about the temperature. And that's no easy feat when you're standing on cold steel.
"I've been doing this kind of thing for years," he said. "The trick is to keep your mindset away from being cold. Once you start thinking about the cold, then you're done. It's that simple."
Foreman Andy Bojanowski of Warminster said the secret is not to be still.
"You really just try and keep moving," he said. "That keeps the blood flowing and keeps you warm. It's also about keeping your mind set that you're going to go to work and you're going to get through it."
And they're not alone.
The Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters of Philadelphia said it has hundreds of union members working out in the cold this winter and most are just used to it. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has nonetheless issued an advisory that warns outdoor workers to be on the lookout for symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia, chilblains and "cold stress."
Symptoms of hypothermia can include blue skin, dilated pupils, slowed pulse, the loss of consciousness and absence of shivering, experts warn. And frostbite can manifest in aching, stinging, bluish or pale, waxy skin. Trenchfoot can occur in temperatures as high as 60 degrees when the feet are constantly wet. Symptoms include leg cramps, swelling, blisters, ulcers and bleeding under the skin. Chilblains occur when ulcers form around damaged small blood vessels in the skin.
When cold temperatures cannot be avoided, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration recommends layering with loose-fitting clothing since tight clothes can reduce blood circulation. OSHA also recommends hats, which can help to prevent the loss of body heat through the head.
Information from: The Intelligencer, http://www.phillyburbs.com