Construction – Coming in from the Cold

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen some pretty low temperatures here in the UK with the cold often exacerbated by strong winds and driving rain, both of which serve to drive the temperatures down even lower, making it difficult to work out of doors.  For those who mainly work outside in the construction industry, coping with the winter cold brings its own set of challenges so today we’re going to give our readers some tips on staying safe and warm during the cold weather snaps that are sure to continue well into the spring.

Low temperatures bring with them additional health and safety risks that need to be dealt with in a cold weather risk assessment.  Legislation requires clients and contractors to consider the health and safety aspects of projects, including the effects of low temperatures on site which can result in the following problems:

·         Low temperatures make it more difficult to concentrate which can lead to an increase in errors in judgement, one of the causes of accidents.  As people take shortcuts to avoid the cold, this can mean not complying with site procedures and rules.

·         Cold affects manual dexterity which is a major issue for those who operate machinery and carry out other manual tasks.  A decrease in dexterity can result in an increased risk of accidents.

·         In extreme low temperatures, frostbit and hypothermia can occur.

When the cold weather also brings rain with it, then the risks increase again due to slippery surfaces increasing the risk of slips and falls.  While there is no specific legislation dealing with wet weather, this should be included in the winter site risk assessments carried out.  The requirements of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 apply to all construction projects and, though they don’t deal specifically with temperature, it is inherent in the requirement to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees and others who may be affected.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require the assessment of work-related risks which must include considering the effects of low temperatures.   Control measures must be implemented to deal with such risks identified in the assessment and principal contractors have a duty to deal with site hazards.  The risk assessment required by the Management Regulations will identify risks caused by low temperatures and it’s up to the principal contractor to manage the site from a health and safety perspective, including those issues relating to low temperatures.  The measures necessary to deal with these should be detailed in the pre-construction phase health and safety plan then implemented throughout the construction phase.  Typical measures include:

·         Maintaining a reasonable temperature as far as reasonably practicable for indoor workplaces (this may include the provision of additional heating)

·         Ensuring that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is issued as necessary – reference to specifications and standards with be necessary, for example BS EN 511 Specification for Protective Gloves Against Cold.

·         Providing adequate facilities for warming up and encouraging workers to drink warm fluids such as hot chocolate or soup.

·         Introducing more frequent rest breaks.

·         Considering whether the work can be delayed and carried out when the weather improves.

·         Educating workers about recognising early symptoms of the effects of cold stress.

·         Considering health monitoring for workers.

·         Monitoring access routes and working platforms for slip hazards.

·         Considering the impact of the cold on the operation of plant and machinery and in relation to manual handling.