As an employer or tradesman, an awareness of winter construction site safety is vital to avoid accidents and lost work. Unlike many industries, construction does not stop due to bad weather, but its many inherent risks are further magnified. Britain is notorious for its changeable weather and never is this truer than during the winter. No reputable employer would choose to put their staff at risk and self-employed workers simply cannot afford the loss of work and money resulting from workplace accidents. However, by planning ahead and staying aware of changing conditions and potential hazards, the risk of accident and illness can be minimised.
Cold and wet weather not only make worksites more dangerous but can physically affect exposed workers. Employers are directly responsible for managing workplace temperature and providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) free of charge.
By providing suitable work clothing, heated rest areas and staff training, employers can ensure the impact of cold weather on their workers is minimised.
Aside from the usual safety equipment, during winter employers are also obliged to provide warm, weatherproof work clothing.
Waterproof insulated safety boots are vital, along with one or more pairs of thermal socks. Aside from protection from slipping and damage from dropped objects, these will keep the feet warm and dry. Wet feet will rapidly become cold and stay cold regardless of layers of clothing, potentially leading to hypothermia, trench foot and frostbite.
Padded, waterproof gloves will keep the hands dry and insulate against cold metal equipment and tools. These should not be so bulky that equipment cannot be operated safely.
As a lot of body heat can be lost from the head, warm hats or insulated hoods are recommended. Care should be taken that hoods do not reduce visibility or awareness of the workers surroundings. If helmets are to be worn, helmet liners and face coverings can be worn underneath for warmth. Scarves are best avoided as loose; dangling ends can become caught in moving equipment.
Waterproof padded coveralls or coats and trousers should be worn if working outside in rain or snow. Multiple layers of clothing are preferable to a few heavy layers as these reduce sweating which can cool and lower the body temperature. Outer layers can be removed and replaced if they become wet or the worker is too warm. As lighting conditions are poor at all times of the day, high visibility clothing is even more important during the winter.
Adequate welfare facilities should be provided at all times of the year but are even more important during the winter. Regular breaks should be enforced so workers are not exposed to the cold for too long and rest at appropriate intervals. Cold and tired workers are less alert and focused and more prone to accidents through lack of attention, Break areas should be adequately heated, with warm seating if possible as body heat is easily lost from sitting on cold surfaces. Access to warm drinks and facilities for heating food must be provided. Warm food and drink raise the core body temperature and fuel the body to generate more heat. Drying rooms should be provided to dry out wet workwear and extra, dry PPE should be available to replace it.
If workers are made aware of the risks of cold conditions and winter hazards, they are better equipped to avoid them. Workers should be made aware of the need to stay mobile to raise body heat without overexertion leading to sweating. Potential site hazards common to winter should be explained and training given in safe operation of plant and machinery during winter. The importance of winter PPE should be explained as ignoring this can lead to cold stress and hypothermia. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety lists the early signs of hypothermia as shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination and confusion/ disorientation. Recognising these signs in yourself and others can be potentially life saving and reduce the chance of accidents.
Freezing temperatures and wet weather can make construction sites particularly dangerous if they are not anticipated and dealt with. By pre-empting this and making sure the correct equipment is on site to deal with harsh conditions, productivity need not be affected. Hiring plant equipment to deal with these seasonal differences can save a huge amount of money. Buying equipment that lies idle for most of the year is not cost effective. Hiring it instead means equipment can be on site as soon as it is needed and only for the period it is required.
Staying aware of upcoming changes in the weather allows you to bring in extra equipment to deal with extreme conditions. Jobs can be rescheduled to allow the site to function more efficiently or new rotation schedules implemented. This means workers can be rotated between jobs to ensure they are not exposed to cold or wet conditions for too long. Extra heating or lighting can be provided when needed and extra fuel and power needs assessed. If freezing conditions are predicted, work areas can be shielded, and ground covered or gritted ahead of time.
Ice, rain, snow and leaves can all create slippery conditions, increasing the chances of slips and falls or vehicle crashes. When working at height this can be especially dangerous. Falls are the most common cause of injuries on construction sites and this can make them even more likely. Snow and leaves obscuring the ground can conceal tripping hazards or uneven floor surfaces and heavy rainfall can cause flooding. All of these should be dealt with as soon as possible and preventative systems put in place. Once potentially dangerous areas are identified, cones or warning signs should be used to make workers and the public aware. As conditions can change quickly, the site should be checked regularly for any new hazards.
Poor lighting conditions are the norm during winter, with short dark days and early nightfall. Even during the day, extra illumination will be needed for indoor work areas with an appropriate power source. Thankfully, there are a wide range of plasterers lights, LED floodlights and portable lights available for this purpose. If the site has not been electrified, a generator and cables will also be needed. For night work outdoors, LED mobile lighting towers provide brilliant light and can easily be manoeuvred around the site.
In addition to rest and break areas, indoor work areas will need to be heated for extended periods of work. Indoor work areas can be even colder than outside, with all the attendant risks to workers. Paint, concrete and plaster dry slowly in cold conditions and frost can damage them beyond repair, causing delays and unnecessary extra work. Electric or propane heaters can be used but propane heaters should only be used in well ventilated areas. In enclosed spaces, the carbon monoxide produced during operation can build up to potentially lethal levels. Again, a generator or fuel will be needed to power the heaters along with fuel storage for extended use.
SERV Plant Hire are plant and machinery specialists offering a huge variety of construction equipment and tools for hire to the North West of England. We have a wide range of specialised equipment for all your winter construction jobs, from lighting towers and heaters to generators, fuel bowsers and safety barriers. For all the equipment needed to complete your project safely and efficiently, contact us, we will be happy to help.