winter weather and construction. How to stay safe on-site
We take a closer look at winter weather and construction – its impact, and practical ways to reduce risk.
Every season brings different challenges for the construction industry. However, the long months of winter can be particularly tough. Changing, inclement weather conditions can have a direct impact on the working environment, worker safety, equipment performance, and even project costs.
Being aware of the potential risks wintry weather brings will help you better prepare and take practical measures to help mitigate those risks.
What impact can winter weather have on construction sites?
Winter can bring hazardous conditions such as freezing temperatures, low-light conditions, intense winds and gales, sleet, snow, and ice. All these elements have the potential to disrupt and delay a project as well as have a significant impact on safety. For example:
Potential impact on Working Environments
- Snow, ice, and wet leaves can make construction sites dangerously slippery. This increases the risk of injuries through trips, slips, and falls.
- Limited daylight hours and grey skies can result in poor site lighting. This can make it difficult to move safely around site and complete tasks. This not only puts worker safety at risk, but also has a measurable effect on productivity.
- Heavy rain and snowfall can damage materials and equipment on-site, as well as potentially weakening and causing structural damage to roofs. Putting workers’ safety at risk.
- Snow can obscure potential hazards such as sharp objects, hidden holes, uneven surfaces, and debris.
- Clearing snow and ice to make construction sites safe to operate requires additional time and resources.
Potential Impact on Worker safety
Dropping temperatures can increase the chance of cold stress. Cold stress can occur when the body is exposed to low, cold temperatures for extended periods of time. This can lead to serious conditions such as frost bite or hyperthermia.
In addition to creating slippery conditions that increase the likelihood of slips and falls, snow can also impose a risk for workers health. For example, clearing snow can be a strenuous activity which may be taxing to the body. This may have a detrimental impact on the health of an individual. Manually shovelling snow in the cold could increase the chance of a heart attack amongst some workers.
Slips, trips, and falls are the most common cause of major injuries at work, the Health and Safety Executive states that several thousand construction workers are injured on building sites every year from slips and falls. Winter weather can make construction sites particularly susceptible to slippery, dangerous conditions.
Potential Impact on Equipment performance and safety
Wintry weather can have a damaging effect on equipment. Machinery and equipment can be more prone to malfunction in colder weather. For example, batteries may drain quicker and be more prone to damage, there is a danger of fluids freezing, and freezing weather can cause tyre pressure to decrease.
“Freezing weather can cause potential safety and performance issues with some equipment. Just recently during a particularly cold spell, our own PAV fleet had some problems with the brakes not working correctly – which could have been dangerous. We would suggest that before using equipment you should always check and follow manufacturers’ instructions, allow additional time to properly warm-up equipment, and thoroughly check everything is working as it should before use.”THX WORKSHOP
Operating machinery in wintery conditions can be challenging. Snow and ice can increase the likelihood of the operator losing control of the machine and skidding. Plant machinery is much heavier than a car and its weight means it will slide further if it encounters a slippery surface.
Financial implications for projects.
Challenging weather can slow down your project timeline. Indeed, research shows that projects can be delayed by up to 21% by poor weather conditions. Inclement weather can slow down everything from the additional time concrete will take to set, to delivery delays caused by snow or ice-covered roads.
According to research there is a direct correlation between temperature and cost – the lower the temperature the greater the potential costs. Moreover, they also note that cold weather can add 5-7% to a project’s costs.
How to mitigate some of the risks associated with winter weather
Being aware of the potential risks cold, inclement weather may bring, can help you better prepare. Enabling you to take practical and precautionary measures to help mitigate many of those risks.
Winter weather can be unpredictable so keeping a close eye on both short and long term weather reports can give you advance warning that challenging conditions may be around the corner.
Knowing the ins and outs of your site will help you better prepare for operating safely in challenging conditions. Where are the potential areas of risk? Are some parts of the site going to be harder to access and navigate in extreme conditions? Are there certain areas that may be more prone to becoming slippery? The better you get to know your site, the easier it will be for you to put the correct precautions and procedures in place.
Making safe your site. You will need to inspect your site to ensure it is safe prior to starting any work. Snow and ice will need to be cleared from not only walking areas, but from roofs, ladders, scaffolding and machinery. Where possible, holes will need to be filled in and debris removed. Anything that can’t be cleared or made safe needs to be clearly marked as hazardous or cordoned off. It is important that site safety checks are conducted regularly as conditions can change quickly.
Winter weather with its darker mornings and earlier evenings, can result in low light working conditions. It is important that your site is well lit, both externally and internally, to ensure a safe and productive working environment. Read our post on ‘Site Lighting – How to Work Safely On-Site During Winter’.
Don’t get caught out at short notice. Make sure you have stocked up on winter essentials for your site. This way they will be readily available when you need them. For example, salt, grit, site lighting, heaters, hazard signage, fencing, barriers, and shovels.
Ensuring the safety of workers is critical. Winter weather can increase the risk of accidents and incidents on-site. From the raised likelihood of slips and falls, to potentially serious conditions like cold stress.
Cold stress is preventable by ensuring that the correct procedures are followed and that everyone is trained to recognise the warning signs that someone may be at risk. Read our article on ‘5 Tips to Stay Warm On-Site‘. It details the importance keeping exposure to cold weather to a minimum; ensuring the correct PPE to enable workers to do their job correctly whilst remaining warm; taking regular breaks for hot drinks in warm, sheltered areas; and having plenty of on-site heating solutions.
Manual snow shovelling is strenuous and coupled with prolonged exposure to cold weather it could increase the risk of a heart attack, particularly for workers who may be at higher risk (age, weight, high cholesterol, or who don’t actively engage in regular cardiovascular activities). Make sure that those individuals with higher risk factors don’t engage in manual snow shovelling. It is also important that workers are briefed on the correct way to shovel snow to reduce the risk of injury or heart attacks – where possible, snow should be pushed rather than lifted.
- Freezing temperatures can have a detrimental impact on machinery and equipment, so extra precautions should be taken before use. Equipment and machinery should be regularly maintained and checked prior to operating.
- Where possible keep machines and equipment protected from extreme weather when they are not in use. And, always allow additional time to properly and correctly warm up machinery and equipment first.
- It is important that you refer to manufacturers’ manuals and follow their instruction procedures for operating and maintaining machines and equipment in cold weather conditions.
In summary, whilst it is impossible to prevent all weather-related issues, thorough preparation and forward planning can significantly lessen the impact on worker safety and construction projects. Being aware of all the challenges and potential hazards that wintry weather can bring will help you better prepare for changing, and extreme weather conditions, helping to limit disruption, incidents, and delays on-site.