By Nina Sharpe

This coming winter, most of the construction safety procedures that work in the summer, just won’t cut it. An icy construction site poses unique challenges. For instance, your workers are under completely different types of stress and are always under the risk of developing hypothermia or frostbite. Needless to say, you need a separate safety program for the winter season.

Improve, adapt, and winter-proof your worker safety program using these worker safety tips

1.   Dress In Layers

Clothing will be a critical factor when working in strong winds and low temperatures. The best way to protect workers from the winter weather is to dress in layers, for two important reasons:

  • If the temperatures rise during the day or the sun comes down, works can easily shed off one or more layers so they can still work in changing environments.
  • If workers start sweating while working, it’s important for them to rest in a warm environment and take off some clothes before going out again. Sweating in sub-zero environments can actually increase the chances of hypothermia.

2.   Look Out For Weather Forecasts

If possible, always avoid working in low visibility and sub-zero weather, because even if you do, productivity will be low and workers’ safety will be risked. Instead, look at weather forecasts a few days prior and plan around the weather. There will be less unforeseen delays this way.

Workers should also make it a habit to check national weather forecasts every morning and prepare themselves accordingly (clothing, lunch, etc). There is also a range of acceptable temperatures, employing workers outside this range will be against the law and could attract serious legal action.

3.   Inspect and Prepare Construction Site

After a night of snowing, working on a construction site will be nearly impossible. It’s important that supervisors survey the site on foot and look for hazards before work commences. Common hazards include slippery spots, downed power lines, large rocks, and similar items buried under ice.

Once all hazards have been removed, all ice and snow should be removed beforehand so workers don’t have to shovel snow in addition to their construction work. If roads and paths are covered in snow or ice, then salt or sand should be sprayed over them to improve traction and avoid slips (the biggest cause of construction site injuries and deaths).

4.   Avoid Coffee, Drink Water

While a hot beverage might be good for workers’ morale, it show be avoided at a construction site, especially in winters. In fact, anything with caffeine should be avoided. Caffeine can increase workers’ heartbeat and give them a false sense of warmth, which might make them shed of clothing when they shouldn’t.

Water is a much better alternative.

Speaking of water breaks, it’s crucial that there is a warm break room that is protected from all outside elements.

5.   Inspect and Prepare Heavy Equipment

Aside from following all the general safety procedures when operating heavy machinery and equipment, operators need to take a few other steps to improve worker safety.

  • Check heavy machinery and equipment for ice buildup, rust, or cracks as sub-zero temperatures can make metal brittle and prone to shattering.
  • All vehicles should be outfitted with high-visibility lights and signs. The operator should also have emergency kits with a flashlight, shovel, flares, blankets, snacks, and water.
  • Always park vehicles in enclosed buildings, protected from outside elements. If possible, ensure the storage space is a little heated to keep the fluids inside the machines from freezing.
  • Operators should ensure all tires are properly inflated and have the correct pressure. Before beginning work. turn on the engine and let it idle for a minute or two. In this time, the operators should check oil levels and engine pressure.

6.   Educating Employees

Even a short training session on worker safety will go a long way in educating workers and making life not only easy but also safer. Important topics to educate employees on:

  • Teach employees the sign of frostbite and hypothermia, precautions, and immediate actions to take if signs appear.
  • A short seminar on driving and operating heavy machinery in snow or on ice.
  • Impact of cold temperatures on regular construction work, for instance, longer curing times for concrete and mortar.
  • Educate employees about safety procedures like what to do if a construction vehicle gets stuck in deep snow or breaks down. For instance, employees should stay in the vehicle and contact emergency services.

Winter weather changes even the fundamentals of construction and contractors need to completely revamp their safety programs in order to keep their workers safe. These 6 worker safety tips make for a good starting point to winter-proof your work zone if you’re beginning from scratch.


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