Combatting cold on the worksite
Everybody in construction knows that the built environment doesn’t take a single day off. Whether it’s inspecting bridges for safety, patching potholes, burying cables, or raising a brand-new building, construction happens year-round and in all types of conditions.
The ongoing safety of laborers must be a top-of-mind concern for site managers. With the following tips, your crew or company will be able to chase bids no matter the weather and have a better idea of how to deal with the most pressing safety issues winter can throw at you.
1. Monitor Outdoor Conditions
Working in cold winter temperatures poses several safety risks that you must work actively to mitigate. That starts with keeping an eye on weather conditions and knowing what to do when things change.
For instance, if the temperature outdoors is between 0 F and -5 F, it’s possible to contract frostbite in just 10 minutes or less. Even relatively balmy temperatures up to 10 F can produce frostbite in 30 minutes or less.
Site managers should know what conditions to expect on-site each day. They should have an efficient way to spread the word to the crew about conditions on the ground throughout the day.
2. Coach Workers on Appropriate Clothing
Avoiding frostbite and hypothermia is one area where it’s OK to play fashion police.
Hypothermia is a condition where the body loses heat faster than it can replace it. According to the CDC, hypothermia and exposure to cold temperatures result in a greater number of deaths per year than exposure to excess heat.
Knowing what safe winter weather construction wear looks like should be a part of your company’s or crew’s training and culture. Employees should own and know when to wear or avoid certain clothing items.
- Wear multiple layers to account for changes in temperature and wind.
- Avoid overly tight clothing, as this inhibits the flow of blood throughout the body.
- In conditions where frostbite is likely, the mouth, neck and face should all be covered with a garment that doesn’t impact visibility.
- Warm hats are non-negotiable, as a great deal of heat leaves the body through the head.
- Anti-fog goggles and glasses preserve visibility in windy and blustery conditions.
- It won’t take long for wet toes and feet to succumb to frostbite. Waterproof boots, ideally with removable wool liners, should be mandatory.
- Insulated work gloves keep hands and fingers warm without surrendering dexterity.
3. Prepare the Site Properly to Avoid Slips and Falls
Walking from one end of a construction site to another can be risky when the right precautions aren’t taken. You already know to expect the usual complement of construction or demolition debris and loose equipment and tools. When you add snow and freezing rain to the mix, you get a compounded risk of employees losing their footing.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.22 requires that worksite managers maintain an environment where the “walking-working surfaces” are free from trip and slip hazards — including ice and snow. This includes inspecting all walking-working surfaces before each shift and on a regular basis, and carrying out risk mitigation efforts immediately.
Enforcing good footwear choices is one part of reducing slip-and-fall injuries. Others include beginning snow and ice removal as soon as it begins to accumulate and spreading sand across walking surfaces for added traction.
4. Double-Check Vehicle Fluids and Inspect Equipment
If you’re accustomed to transporting equipment to and performing work on construction sites year-round, one thing you can’t neglect is winterizing engine oils and hydraulic fluids. If these fluids aren’t rated for cold weather, it could cause the equipment to operate in an unsafe manner or fail outright unexpectedly.
Tools with tanks should be drained completely after each use so any moisture that may have gotten inside doesn’t freeze. You might also consider anti-freeze tool oil to keep air hoses and pneumatic tools fully protected from cold-related damage that could put the operator at risk.
5. Rotate Workers Regularly and Set up Warming Stations
Even if you do your best to take every precaution, cold stress can still set in quickly. If any season calls for more frequent breaks and worker changeovers and shorter shifts overall, it’s wintertime.
OSHA recommends that site managers create warm areas where laborers can recuperate as they need to. Many sites employ portable space heaters and hot drink stations to create a refuge workers can use throughout their shifts. This falls under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which recognizes the employer’s duty to “protect workers from recognized hazards.”
6. Equip Every Fleet Vehicle With Winter Emergency Gear
In wintertime, a winter weather emergency kit should contain each of the following:
- Portable steel or aluminum shovel
- Ice scraper
- Jumper cables
- Emergency flares
- Blanket or sleeping bag
- Spare water and food
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Fully stocked first-aid kit
- Tow straps or chains
- Spare tire and portable air compressor
Every vocational vehicle or truck on your construction site should have a similar emergency kit for winter weather. It’s wise to provide or encourage workers to place a well-stocked and season-appropriate emergency kit in any personal vehicles they use to travel to the construction site, as well.
7. Know the Signs and Remember That Safety Is in Everybody’s Hands
Safety on a construction site, especially in wintertime, is everybody’s responsibility. This means it’s important to say something if you see something.
The signs of hypothermia and cold stress include shivering, poor coordination, slurred speech, pale skin, compromised breathing, and a creeping feeling of exhaustion. Employees and managers should know what to look for and be confident enough to make suggestions when they see somebody who may be at risk or already succumbing to the cold.
After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With the right equipment and preparation, and keeping a friendly eye on our co-workers’ conditions, construction sites can stay productive and safe even in the depths of winter.
Written by: Megan Ray Nichols, BOSS Contributor
Megan is a STEM writer and blogger at https://schooledbyscience.com/