How to Keep Construction Workers Safe & Warm During Winter
There is no such thing as an off season when it comes to the construction world. The work doesn’t stop and construction workers are outside everyday battling below freezing temperatures, frigid cold winds, and slippery conditions. Untrained and/or unprepared workers could result in serious injuries, illnesses, or even death. Great workers are what keep businesses running and as employers, we have a duty to make sure our crew is prepared for the cold winter.
In the words of Jon Snow, Winter is Coming… and here are 5 major tips to keeping your crew members safe and warm during the winter season:
1. Kick Off the Winter with Safety Training
Order a dozen pizzas and gather everyone to the lunch room. Employers should be proactive leading up to the winter months by kicking off the winter season with safety training. Whether you’re working on the construction site or on the farm, we can’t always escape the harsh winter weather, but as employers, we can educate our employees on ways to prevent cold stresses and review company safety procedures.
What is a cold stress? According to the National Institute for Occupations Safety and Health, workers are at risk of cold stress when temperatures drop below normal and wind speeds increase, causing heat to leave the body more rapidly. Common types of cold stresses are hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, and cold water immersion.
Here are a few topics to review:
- Employers should conduct trainings to educate workers
- Discuss common Types of Cold Stresses
- Train workers to recognize the symptoms of cold stresses
- Encourage them to monitor their own health along with their coworkers
- Review proper clothing and safety gear for cold, wet, and windy conditions
- Review first aid and company procedures if symptoms were to arise; most construction companies should have an Emergency Response Plan
- Review safety procedures and protocols if stranded in a vehicle
2. Always Track Winter Forecasts
Pennsylvania winter storms can be unpredictable despite what the Farmer’s Almanac tells us. Whether you are a job site manager or a machine operator, always check the forecast for the expected weather conditions so you can be aware of potential problems that could occur on the job site. Continue to track the forecast through the day to prepare for unexpected weather changes and downtime.
To help reduce fatigue and the potential risk for cold stresses, employers should adjust work hours and schedule workers during the warmer part of the day when the sun has maximum exposure.
3. Provide a Safe Worksite for the Winter
Before the start of each day, employers should check the worksite for hazardous conditions and prep the site for a productive and warm work day.
- Look for downed power lines, trees, debris and other objects that could be dangerous
- Remove snow or ice that has accumulated overnight and throughout the day
- Put down salt or sand for better traction throughout the site to reduce slips or falls
- Provide frequent breaks in a warm area
- Encourage your crew to replenish their bodies with warm liquids, water, or sports drinks
- Provide additional means of communicating with workers, especially in remote areas
- Assign workers in pairs so they can be aware of each other throughout the day
4. Wear Proper Winter Gear for the Job Site
When working outside, it is important to wear appropriate clothing that will help protect your body from the harsh winter conditions and reduce excessive sweating, while keeping your body heat from escaping.
OSHA recommends wearing three-layers of loose fitting clothing. Avoid wearing tight clothing which can result in poor blood circulation.
- Layer 1 – Thermal wear, wool, silk, or synthetic material (polypropylene) to help trap body heat
- Layer 2 – Should be wool or synthetic material to provide additional insulation even when wet
- Layer 3 – The outer most layer should be a coat or jacket that is windproof and waterproof
Protect your face, ears, and mouth from the cold winds with a knit mask. For jobs that require a hard hat, invest in a winter liner that is specifically fitted for construction hard hats. Keep your extremities warm with insulated and waterproof gloves and boots.
5. Inspect and Prep Vehicles
Winter is near which means you should be winterizing your heavy machinery to ensure continued productivity during the colder months, read our 10 Tips to Preparing Your Machine for the Winter Season.
Before you head out onto the road or worksite, always complete a full walk-around of your machine and work area before operation.
- Visually inspect the equipment’s components for cracks, cuts, or worn spots
- Clear out any snow, ice, or debris from the tires, undercarriage and hydraulic arms
- Avoid dirty windshields by cleaning the windows with cleaner and a squeegee. Spray de-icer on the windows to avoid additional formation of ice
- Equip each machine and vehicle with a winter emergency kit packed with an ice scraper, snow brush, flashlight with extra batteries, first aid kit, a blanket, tow chain, flare and reflectors
Winter safety shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ice, snow, and below freezing temperatures can do major damage to our health and heavy machinery. Make sure you take the proper steps to educate your workers on safety procedures and health hazards, provide the necessary materials to stay warm and healthy, and prep your vehicles well in advance to avoid unnecessary issues. Whether its a clear winter day or the ground is a covered in a blanket of snow, employers should be confident that their workers are prepared for the winter season.