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5 safety considerations for your construction site in winter

January 24th, 2019

Kelly Friel is a Digital Product Manager with Zoro, a leading retailer of tools and PPE for trade. In this blog post, she shares her insider knowledge for keeping your construction site safe and your employees comfortable through the winter.

Construction sites can be hazardous places at the best of times, but when the temperature plummets and ice and snow become issues, work gets even riskier. Fortunately, it is possible to reduce this level of risk by providing your staff with the right equipment and facilities to stay safe, warm, and comfortable on the job. 

As an employer or site manager, it’s your obligation to provide staff with the right PPE for winter (gov.uk), and ensure that measures are in place to help prevent slips, vehicle accidents, and cold stress. In this article, I’ll outline the basic steps that all construction companies should take to keep their staff safe on site during challenging weather conditions.

Prevent falls, slips, and trips during poor weather

Preventing slips and falls on site is always a priority, especially if your staff carry out work at height. And this is never more important than during the winter months, when wet weather, ice and snow can make surfaces especially slippery and treacherous.

To prevent falls in bad weather, it’s important that all staff have work boots which provide adequate traction and grip. Rubberised mats can also be a good collective solution for adding extra grip to slippery concrete or scaffolding. Hand rails are also important on walkways and scaffolding, or any other area where a fall from an open ledge is a hazard. Remember that metal guard rails can freeze in cold temperatures, so your staff should wear gloves to protect their skin from cold burns and improve grip.

Ensure your employees are warm

Cold conditions present acute health risks to your staff, which is why all workers should be issued with thermal clothing during the winter. Not only are long periods of exposure to cold weather conditions dangerous, but during physically demanding outdoor work, it can also seriously drain staff energy levels.

To help keep your employees warm and comfortable, you should ensure that everyone has an insulative overcoat and trousers designed specifically for outdoor use. It’s also a good idea to offer your staff some accessories that will help to make their existing PPE more comfortable, like thermal hardhat liners, balaclavas, and glove and boot liners. In extremely cold conditions, hand warmers or heated thermal layers might be the most effective solution.

However, it’s not just about providing the right equipment and clothing for working hours. Employees should also have access to a well-heated break room, which should provide a space where they can warm up and enjoy a hot drink: not only will this help to keep everyone comfortable, but it can have a positive effect on your staff’s mental wellbeing and motivation, too. A static caravan or portable office fitted with seating, space heaters, and some basic catering equipment (including a kettle and water dispenser) should be sufficient.

Educate employees on cold stress and injury

Just as you would provide training on preventing and treating workplace accidents or injuries, you should also educate your staff on cold stress. ‘Cold stress’ is an umbrella term for illnesses that occur when body temperature falls dangerously low, like frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot.  So, before the winter chill sets in, you should provide your staff with training on how to protect themselves, which symptoms to look out for, and what they should do if they think they or another member of staff is falling ill.

It’s a good idea to display signage detailing this information in communal areas, and to ensure that training is refreshed whenever a spell of extremely cold weather is forecast. You can learn more about cold stress and thermal comfort at work on the HSE.

Make sure all working areas are well-lit

Shorter days and longer nights mean that sites can be dark for much of the winter, especially if they work very early in morning or late at night. So, you may need to increase the number of work lights you have on site, and consider investing in a generator if electrical access is a problem.

If your site is very sprawling, mast-mounted floodlights might be the most effective form of illumination. For work on smaller work areas, or on jobs with more than one location, portable work lights will be a more cost-effective solution. Don’t forget that vehicles and equipment may also need additional mounted lighting, especially in poor visibility: this will also help staff on foot to be aware of machinery on the move.

Don’t forget about driving and operating machinery

Extra caution is required when driving in icy conditions or snowy weather, and this is especially true on construction sites, where roads and tracks are often patchy, uneven, and prone to puddles and ice patches. To further complicate matters, construction vehicles are generally less agile and responsive than ordinary cars, which puts them at further risk of skidding and sliding on ice.

To help keep sites clear and safe for vehicles and equipment, a ready supply of grit is essential. This should be applied generously to all surfaces where vehicles will be in operation whenever temperatures drop below 2°C. Your operatives should also be given additional training on driving heavy-duty machinery in challenging weather conditions: you can learn more about this on Vista Training.

Snow, ice, and wet weather can make on-site work exceptionally dangerous, which is why it’s so important to take extra precautions during the winter months. By implementing this advice, and providing your staff with the right PPE and heating equipment, your staff should be able to work safely and efficiently right through until the spring.

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