On the heels of a hot summer for most of the country, it's time to turn our attention to what lies ahead with cooler and wetter weather and keeping contractors safe on the job. Although many construction projects take place in the spring and summer, projects don't pause just because it's cold, wet, or icy outside. In fact, a lot of commercial projects get underway during the winter months, as traditionally there are more available contractors, which could lower labor costs, and permits can be faster to obtain.
The Hazards of Colder Weather for Contractors
Construction workers during the winter are exposed to various hazards, including falls from slipping or skidding on frozen surfaces; frostbite; cold stress, which occurs when the skin and body temperature decrease due to either long-term exposure to cold temperatures or even short-term exposure to severe cold-weather conditions; hypothermia, which can result from windy conditions, exhaustion, and wet clothing; loss of dexterity; and loss of alertness.
Safety First on the Construction Site
Keeping the workers safe on the job site during the winter involves various measures. Following are some tips to revisit and ensure that they are being properly implemented.
- Conduct a hazard analysis of the worksite and the varying tasks performed by workers to help eliminate dangers caused by slippery conditions, including from rain, sleet, and ice.
- Ensure construction workers are educated on winter safety measures.
- De-ice and inspect all machinery and tools along with pathways, scaffolding, and ladders.
- Make sure that vehicles used on the construction site have snow tires and are checked on a regular basis. You want to ensure that the cold temperatures have not jammed the radiator or other mechanisms.
- Check for snowdrifts, ice, fallen trees, or other objects and debris that could cause delays or create worksite hazards for workers. Inspect the worksite to ensure that there are no downed power lines or other hazards that could endanger workers when they begin work.
- Make sure all workers wear the right clothing, including base layers, jackets, gloves, hats, and insulated footwear.
- Ensure workers wear and use appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) including hard hats, work gloves, safety shoes, goggles, and earmuffs. The use of PPE increases worker safety by protecting employees from falling materials and tools and from tripping due to wet or frozen ground conditions. Also, if workers are working on elevated surfaces such as scaffolding, ladders, or high platforms, appropriate PPE would protect them from falls from great heights in the event of sudden strong winds and the formation of black ice, which could cause a slipping hazard.
- Plan jobs that expose employees to cold weather during the warmest part of the day.
- Set up a heated area where workers can take breaks to warm up.
- Provide a flexible schedule to accommodate weather changes in order to keep a project on track.
- Have workers share tasks so that not one individual is more exposed to demanding, outdoor jobs in cold temperatures.
- Put a plan in place for cold-weather emergencies. Check the weather forecast every morning and actively monitor the weather throughout the day to provide workers with enough warning to secure work areas and vacate the worksite.
- For remote locations, be sure there's a dependable way to communicate with workers. You want to be able to reach your workers during a storm in case of an evacuation or schedule changes.
Workplace safety helps prevent employee injuries, boosts morale, and averts project delays. Step up your safety program to take into account weather changes over the next several months.