Preparing for Cold Weather Work

Winter is an extremely dangerous time of year for all construction related workers. Rapid weather changes, low temperatures, and falling snow and ice represent just a small sampling of the problems workers face on the job each and every day during these frigid months. When unpredictable winter weather hits, make sure your site, team members, and equipment stays safe with these winter safety tips.

  1. Follow Strict Maintenance Procedures: Before any equipment gets used or any scaffold gets stepped on, inspect it to be sure everything is in proper working order. Look for frozen/jammed parts, if scaffold boards are iced over or slick, there is no visible damage, etc. Never work on scaffolds outside if the weather is extremely stormy or windy, which is one of the most common causes for accidents.
  2. Snow & Ice Removal: Construction sites should be inspected often, but even more so in harsh winter conditions. Paths should always remain clear and, if icy, kept a fresh layer of salt sprinkled on them. Be sure that snow isn’t piled so high that it isn’t obstructing your view of important areas of your site. Take care to remove any icicles that could pose a hazard or rope off areas underneath them if they can’t be removed.
  3. Wear Proper Clothing: Frostbite is also a major issue in cold working conditions. In the winter months, it is best to wear non-slip shoes or boots but NEVER wear snow spikes or chains. If you fall not only could you further hurt yourself with them, but also a coworker near you. Other necessary clothing items include gloves, ear/head wear, thermal under garments, socks, etc. Additionally, have these sorts of clothes on hand in the construction office in case someone shows up to work ill-prepared for the elements.
  4. Use Proper Heating Elements: Heat is crucial during the winter, but it is also dangerous. Portable heaters can be used in some instances, but they can also create a hazard if not managed properly. Supervisors should be sure that all heaters used are properly inspected and that employees are trained on the proper use of heaters and generators. Propane tanks can also pose extra risks during the winter. Tanks should be placed on stable surfaces, and they always need to be secured properly.
  5. Scheduling: Winter weather is full of uncertainty, and this doesn’t bode well for a tight work schedule. If possible, strive to reach project milestones before the worst of the weather descends upon your region. Winter weather often requires that businesses and contractors find some flexibility in scheduling so that everyone remains as safe as possible. Also, schedule work during the warmest parts of the day and allow for short warm-up breaks so that workers can re-energize before returning to the elements.
  6. Additional Training: Winter brings with it chilly winds and harsh conditions that workers need to be prepared for. Training workers on winter specific safety issues and what to wear to stay warm is vital to the overall safety of the site. It’s the supervisor’s job to keep staff trained and ready to face the elements.
  7. Inspect the Worksite: Start your day with an inspection of the site to be sure that all snow and ice has been eliminated from surfaces where employees will be passing through or working. Continuously inspect the site throughout the whole day to ensure that no ice has built on any equipment or scaffold. Check all heaters and generators to ensure combustible materials are clear from danger.
  8. Take Your Time: It is important to slow down and never rush. If the easy way out is taken, it usually leads to injuries or accidents. Never sacrifice speed for safety.
  9. Check Your Coverage: If you operate in harsh winter conditions, be sure that all of your insurance policies are up to date and that you are carrying the proper coverages. Construction specific insurance brokers specialize in helping you insure against the unique risks that are inherent in the construction business year round.

For a more thorough overview of cold weather work safety, visit the OSHA site here…