Construction doesn’t stop when winter weather strikes, so it’s important to know what steps to take to keep your workers warm and safe. As another major winter storm is starting to impact areas of the country this week with snow and ice accumulation, it’s a good time to review some safety tips for keeping your workers safe.
Inspect and clear sites
When winter weather hits you need to inspect your construction sites for downed power lines and trees before allowing workers to begin work. Clear all snow and ice from walking and working surfaces, including walkways, roofs, scaffolding and ladders. Be sure to stress the importance of fall safety protection to workers when icy conditions exist.
Put down salt or sand to melt icy patches and improve traction for workers. Make sure icy areas that can’t be cleared are clearly marked and instruct workers to slow down and take shorter steps, especially when carry materials and tools to avoid slips.
Knock off any icicles that have formed or cordon off areas to prevent workers from accidentally breaking them loose and creating falling object hazards.
Watch the weather
The last thing you want is to have a construction site full of workers stranded because a blizzard blew in without you knowing. Give your workers adequate time to secure the construction site and get home safely before severe weather strikes.
As temperatures plummet, keep a careful watch on workers for signs of hypothermia and frostbite. Make sure workers are wearing appropriate clothing for the weather and encourage them to take frequent breaks to warm up from the cold.
Provide a heated break area
Workers expend more energy when working in cold weather in order to keep their bodies warm. Make sure you have a heated trailer, tent or indoor area for workers to warm up from the cold. Limit exposure to the elements by encouraging workers to take frequent breaks in order to rest and warm up, drink warm liquids and change out of wet clothing.
This is a good time to check workers for signs of fatigue, frostbite or hypothermia. Remind workers to limit consumption of caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants as this increases their heart rate, causing them to feel warmer than they actually are.
If using portable heaters in break areas, make sure to properly vent the area and use CO sensors to monitor for carbon monoxide exposure.
Be sure to take extra steps in ensuring workers are wearing all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) when winter weather conditions are present.
Hard hats should be worn at all times to protect against falling objects like icicles and slips and falls on ice. Using liners in hard hats will help keep workers warm and prevent heat from escaping.
Glove and mittens should be selected that enables workers with enough manual dexterity to work with tools and materials. Remind workers to keep their gloves on at all times, especially when climbing ladders, scaffolding or getting onto construction equipment. Frostbite can occur immediately if workers touch extremely cold metal with bare hands.
Workers should wear waterproof boots with non-slip soles and extra socks to protect against the cold if wearing steel-toed boots since the metal acts as a cold sink.
Goggles, safety glasses and facemasks can be treated with anti-fog spray to prevent their vision from being obstructed.
Make sure personal fall arrest systems are adjusted to properly fit over bulkier clothing and inspect them before each use to ensure straps aren’t frozen with ice.
Warm up equipment and tools
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on properly warming up heavy equipment before use. Electrical wires and hoses can become brittle in cold temperatures, so it is important to allow those to heat up properly to avoid damaging your equipment.
Make sure fluids, such as engine and hydraulic oils, in your equipment is rated for the temperatures in your area and replace them if needed. Make sure heaters in cabs are working properly and clear off any ice or snow from windshields and steps. Try and avoid using any equipment that isn’t equipped with an enclosed cab to keep your workers warm.
You also need to take extra precautions when working with air compressors and pneumatic tools. Drain fluid from air compressor tanks after each use to prevent the moisture that has accumulated from freezing and damaging the tank. Put antifreeze tool oil in your pneumatic tools and air hoses to protect against the cold. Fire your empty nail guns at 40 PSI in freezing temperatures to warm them up before use.
Keeping warm is one of the most important things when working in cold weather. The key is finding a balance of wearing enough layers to stay warm while still being able to maintain a good range of mobility to perform your work.
Layer clothing with some moisture wicking thermals on your inner layer and have a waterproof outer layer to prevent moisture from soaking into your clothing. If clothing gets wet, it’s important to change into dry clothes to avoid losing body heat.
Limit the amount of skin exposed to cold temperatures with careful attention to the extremities by wearing knit hats and earmuffs for the head, wool socks for the feet, balaclavas for the face and gloves and mittens for the hands.
For more tips on keeping warm on the construction site, be sure to check out our 10 Tips for Keeping Warm on the Construction Site.
Put emergency kits in work vehicles
Make sure each of your company’s fleet of work trucks and vehicles is equipped with winter weather emergency kits. Your kits should include a shovel, ice scraper and brush, sleeping bag, water, non-perishable snacks like protein bars, tow straps, emergency flares and a backup battery for your cell phone. It’s also a good idea to have some cat litter, snow or sand to help with traction in case you get stuck. Encourage your workers to create emergency kits to for their personal vehicles.
Be cautious when driving in snow and ice. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination and leave plenty of space between yourself and other vehicles to avoid accidents.