How to keep construction workers safe during cold winter months

THE construction industry has withstood many changes during the coronavirus pandemic, and now there is no shortage of projects to keep up with. But as companies work to keep to their deadlines, it’s important to take the time to keep employees safe during the colder months.

You probably have safety measures in place on all your sites, but these processes should be reviewed and adapted specifically for winter to ensure that your workers are as safe as possible. Here, tools, equipment, and PPE supplier Zoro summarises some of the key things you can do as the weather turns cooler.

Prepare before winter hits

When the weather starts to get colder, you should start to make preparations for the upcoming months. Good measures to take are purchasing grit, salt, or sand to make walking on-site safer — this way, you will have it ready as soon as you need it. Check that any machine fluids (such as engine oil and hydraulic oil) are manufactured to withstand the expected temperatures. Then, conduct a survey of all the heaters in the cabs of any vehicles to be sure that they are working, arranging repairs as necessary.

Lastly, ensure that you have the necessary tools to deal with melting snow and ice. Pooling water can slow down construction as well as making it unsafe for workers, so review your plans for water run-off to see if these areas can  cope with the additional water during winter rain and snow.

Prevent falls

Falling and slipping is one of the most common issues that employees face on construction sites throughout winter. One of the easiest things that you can do to lessen the likelihood of your workers falling, is to salt and grit as many walkways, scaffolding platforms, and steps are less slippery.

You should also make sure that your workers are wearing hard hats at all times on-site, as one of the biggest dangers when people fall is that they can hit their heads. To remind people to use gritted walkways, and wear hard hats, it’s useful to have a designated safety point with a whiteboard that summarises that site’s safety protocol. This should include instructions for what to do when someone has a fall, such as not moving them if they are struggling or unconscious, and calling NHS 111 for advice if they or a colleague notices any injuries or mental fatigue after falling while working.

Provide warm gloves and clothing

Lots of the tasks on construction sites require people to be dexterous with their hands, so it’s important to keep them warm. It’s not only unpleasant to have cold hands, but it’s also a hazard, because workers’ hands seizing up can lead to accidents and injuries due to slower reactions. As well as this, if workers have their body temperature reduced very frequently, this can cause illness over time, leading to more sick leave and low morale. So, provide gloves for employees that provide both warmth and agility. Communicate to people that it’s important to keep their gloves on at all times, and this is especially important when climbing scaffolds or ladders, or operating equipment.

Then, instead of just buying reflective jackets, buy waterproof or fleece-lined ones. It’s useful to have one set of reflective clothing for summer, and one for winter. Encourage employees to wear at least three layers in the cold weather, as well as telling them how important it is to bring extra waterproof clothing in case anything gets wet.

Conduct regular safety checks

In the summer, the main worry when working outside is avoiding heat stroke and dehydration. But in the winter, the hazards are more numerous. To prevent your construction site becoming unsafe, it’s important to conduct regular safety inspections to check that equipment is working (and placed in safe areas), and that walkways and steps are gritted and not slippery. It’s easy for snow and ice to make scaffolding, steps, and walkways dangerous.

Placing additional signs around your site can also be helpful, as it draws attention to new hazards that are easily missed. For example, if there is an area that tends to ice over when the temperatures drop at night, adding a warning sign nearby can alert workers to being more careful there. It can also be useful to use signs to remind people of new protocols, such as turning off heaters.

Set realistic goals

Remember that it’s not viable or safe for workers to finish projects in the same amount of time that they would do during dry summer weather. It’s important to draw up realistic timetables that account for the fact that sites may be slippery, icy, and wet. Give teams more time to complete their tasks if necessary and tell your employees not to rush. Having workers tripping and injuring themselves on-site will only delay deadlines more, so it’s much more productive to keep to a safer pace.

It can also be useful to organise team meetings where you can check in and see how everyone is doing. Ask your workers how fast projects are moving, and arrange any extra safety precautions with them so that everyone is informed of how to work safely and effectively.

“Winter is a particularly important time to review your safety processes, as many things can go wrong in construction when there is harsher weather.

“As well as keeping the construction site safe, it’s advisable to build breaks into the working day for employees to warm up. Providing hot drinks to people during these breaks can assist in keeping people warm and productive.

“Having the correct safety equipment is crucial, and this combined with breaks and warm clothes, should keep everyone protected throughout the colder months.”

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