7 Winter Construction Safety Tips For Owners and Employees
Winter season brings many safety challenges to those working in construction. With the icy conditions, cold weather, and equipment care, there are more winter safety hazards for construction workers to be aware of than in the warm summer months.
Whether you're an owner, equipment operator, or laborer, you need to be aware of the different safety issues that come with the cold. This list will go over several cold-weather construction safety tips for employees to be aware of and what you can do to avoid further risk or harm.
Watch for Slips, Trips, and Falls
As we've talked about before in our blogs about construction site safety, slips and falls are the biggest contributors to fatalities on a job site. And those risks only grow as the weather gets colder.
Slips and falls can happen anywhere: climbing into the cab of equipment, icy ground, ladders, scaffolding, stairs, and more. Each of these can lead to a serious risk of injury or accidents on a job site, especially if the area hasn't been treated correctly.
In order to overcome these risks, we recommend following these tips:
Slow down. Really pay attention to areas that could be extra slippery due to ice, including ladders, scaffolding, stairs, and heavy equipment.
Wear proper footwear. We recommend checking out options from the best work boot brands in construction. You may want to invest in ice cleats as well.
Apply salt or sand to high-traffic areas to reduce the risk of slipping on ice.
Clear away snow and ice before working or climbing equipment. And be sure to keep three points of contact if you do climb heavy machinery, ladders, or scaffolding.
Be sure to use equipment with fall protection features.
Layer Your Clothing Properly
More important than wearing the right clothes is properly layering your winter construction work clothes. You want to dress warm, but just because clothes may keep you warm in one environment doesn't mean they will in another.
For example, you will want to wear clothes that are looser as the bottom layer in order to trap heat. You'll also want to avoid cotton because if it gets wet, it will remove heat from your body and keep you cold instead of warming you up.
Synthetic materials like polyester, merino wool, and fleece are the most recommended materials for layering up as they retain heat without retaining sweat and wetness. Remember that with all these layers you still need to be mobile and have a good range of motion, so don't overdo it.
Outside of your clothes, you'll want to wear the proper accessories to reduce the amount of skin you have exposed. This will include wool socks, which you can potentially double layer, earmuffs, knitted hats, work boots, and fingered gloves. It's also recommended to have another set of clothing in your car, locker, or site office if possible, just in case your clothes get damp and you need a fresh set.
By utilizing these winter safety tips, you will drastically reduce the risk of any overexposure to lower body temperatures and hypothermia. We also recommend being aware of any signs of hypothermia which include:
Slurred speech or mumbling
Slow, shallow breathing
Clumsiness or lack of coordination
Drowsiness or very low energy
Confusion or memory loss
Loss of consciousness
Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
Knowing how to operate equipment during the winter seasons can keep your workers protected from the cold. When it comes to winter treatment, most equipment suppliers will have instructions on how to do cold starts or warm up equipment before use. We've also put together a comprehensive list of things you can do to prepare your equipment for winter.
You should ensure that you're only using machines with enclosed cabs to protect them from the added effects of wind chill. Without them, you're putting your operators at more risk of winter hazards. You'll also want to make sure that the heaters in the cabs are working properly and to clear off as much ice or snow from the tracks, wheels, undercarriage, windshield, and steps as possible before using. This will improve the movement of the machine, visibility, and the ascent and descent of the operator.
Provide a Heated Area for Staff
Your employees and contractors deserve to get a break from the cold. And during those breaks, they should have a nice, warm, heated area to relax and rejuvenate their bodies. Whether this is a heated trailer, tent, or building is up to you, but allowing them to take frequent breaks may be necessary.
Providing access to hot liquids like soup or hot chocolate can help in quickly heating up their bodies and is one of the most important safety tips for the winter seasons. Coffee should be avoided at all costs because it leads to dehydration.
Watch The Weather
No matter if you're a site supervisor, owner, or subcontractor, you should have an idea of what the weather is going to be, especially in the winter. This will help you in knowing how to layer, but it can also keep you attuned to any inclement weather.
If the temperature starts to drop or the wind picks up, you may become at more risk of frostbite or hypothermia. Should this be the case, contact your supervisor quickly to let them know the situation and ensure that everyone gets home safely.
Inspect Jobs Sites Thoroughly
With cold weather often comes lots of snow, ice, and wind which can cause power lines to fall, trees to break, and other forms of debris. Because of this, you'll want to have the site supervisor inspect the construction site for any damages or accidents that may interfere with the workers and clear them before they start.
Snow and ice can also build up on scaffolding, roofs, ladders, and more. This can create a slippery environment that can cause unwanted slips. You'll also want to clear any snow and icicles because when falling from high distances, they can cause serious injury to those working below.
Remove Snow From Surrounding Areas
While snow can build up on roofs and scaffolding, it can also build up on walkways, pathways, and parking lots. Skid steers, compact track loaders, and wheel loaders can be used for large snow removal projects on a job site. This is better than shoveling and since you already most likely have one of those pieces of equipment on the site, it is best to utilize them. However, recently cleared snow can create extremely slippery terrains so you'll want to lay down dirt, sand, or salt after you've finished the task.
If you create organization plans about how to handle these construction safety topics, you will decrease the impact of winter weather on your employees and help keep your workers safe from the extreme cold. Try your best to bring them up during safety meetings and any conversations about occupation safety and health, especially during the winter months. These cold weather safety tips for employees can help save lives.