Safety is paramount on construction sites in even the best of weather conditions. It’s important to make sure no critical equipment is damaged, everything is in good working order, that workers are taking the necessary precautions, and that the site is well-maintained.
In the winter, there tend to be even more safety risks on construction sites than the warm weather months, when they’re already considerable.
With those risks in mind, the following are some winter safety tips that are important on worksites.
Know the Hazards
Everyone on worksites needs to know what the hazards are they face daily during the cold weather months.
Winter weather has the potential to make already dangerous jobs even more hazardous.
Some of the risks that can be specific to winter include:
- Illnesses and injuries related to the cold—exposure to cold can be uncomfortable or dangerous, or deadly. Anyone who works outdoors in a cold environment should know the symptoms and risks of trench foot and frostbite conditions. There’s also a condition called chilblains. Chilblains can happen when your skin is repeatedly exposed to cold temperatures. It leads to inflammation of small blood vessels, and they can eventually become permanently damaged.
- Slips and falls—any time of year, slips, falls, and trips are a risk when working in construction. Ice and other similar conditions raise the risk even more in the winter. Slips, trips, and falls can lead to minor injuries like bruises or more serious injuries, including back injuries or head trauma.
- Operating vehicles—around 21% of all accidents in the U.S each year are related to weather, with most of them happening during snow, sleet, or icy conditions.
Know the Signs of Injuries and Illness
If you manage a construction site or work on one in any capacity, one of the best safety tips to remember is to know the signs of any injuries or illness related to the winter weather.
Educate workers and supervisors about cold-related injuries and illness. Signs to watch for include a lack of coordination, slurred speech, shivering, and mumbling. If the temperatures are low and you see any of these signs, it’s a medical emergency.
Everyone Should Wear the Right Gear and Clothing
Workers should wear layers, including an insulating base layer that wicks moisture and a waterproof outer layer. Everyone on a construction site should also water waterproof boots with insulation and durable traction, warm socks, and hats during the winter. Gloves should be worn with grips to allow them to handle equipment safely.
Removing Snow and Ice
Anyone in charge of maintaining a construction site should ensure that snow and ice are removed quickly. Grit should be distributed after the removal of snow.
If you use a de-icer, make sure that you’re following any environmental regulations or requirements in doing so.
If there’s snow or ice, no matter how time-sensitive the project is, workers shouldn’t be on scaffolding.
In the winter season, all equipment and vehicles need to be inspected to ensure they’re functioning correctly. All work vehicles should include winter emergency kits. At a minimum, these kits should include an ice scraper, snow brush, two chain, flashlight, blanket, snacks, and water.
Along with checking vehicles on a regular basis, something that should be done every day is reviewing the worksite. Look for snow and ice on rooftops or overhangs that might need to be cleared. Remember, there’s always the potential for snow to hide dangerous things if they were to fall and hit someone.
The site needs to be checked for any other hazards as well, such as maybe a tree that fell. No one should start working for the day until the risks are dealt with.
Be aware of the risk of winter flooding, which can happen near construction sites if there isn’t proper water control.
On sites where cranes or hoists are used, make sure that the manufacturer’s recommendations are followed for whatever conditions. For example, winter often brings cold temperatures and high winds.
Provide a Heated Area and Encourage Breaks
Finally, your workers should have a heated area where they can go to take breaks. Workers need to be encouraged to take breaks regularly in winter.
If you’re using temporary heating equipment, be mindful that it can be a fire hazard to ensure you’re compliant with the local fire code. You need to keep any combustive materials away from heating equipment, including seemingly innocuous things like wooden ladders.