Avoiding the Winter Weather Woes in Construction

Avoiding the Winter Weather Woes in Construction

07th December 2018

Last week we brought you some information on working in the construction sector during the colder winter months.  We warned how slips and trips are even more prevalent when the temperatures plummet, causing surfaces to become icy and slippery.  We also gave some advice on equipping vehicles with some emergency gear that can be used if you get stuck on the road somewhere due to extreme weather conditions and we warned how cold stress can lead to serious health issues.  Today we’re going to take a look at some of the measures that can be taken on the construction site itself to reduce the likelihood of the workforce being at risk of health concerns due to the cold.

There is no legal minimum temperature for working outdoors and no exact definition of what is considered a reasonable temperature for doing so.  However, Regulation 43 of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) requires that every outdoor workplace “where necessary to ensure the health and safety of persons at work there, be so arranged that, so far as is reasonably practicable and having regard to the purpose for which that place is used and any protective clothing or work equipment provided for the use of any person at work there, it provides protection from adverse weather”.

Site managers and supervisors should carry out a risk assessment every day to check that conditions have not changed and that it is safe to work.  Particular attention should be given to working at height platforms, walkways and ladders.  If there is roof work involved, then check wind speeds with a hand-held anemometer and refer to NFRC (National Federation of Roofing Contractors) guidelines on roofing in windy weather.  It’s the responsibility of the site manager to ensure that all workers are trained on winter hazards and that the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is available for everybody.

Making sure workers on site stay safe from cold stress means making sure they are wearing adequate winter workwear and staying active.  Because body heat is lost more rapidly through the head it’s a good idea to wear a helmet liner underneath the hardhat – this will also help protect the ears and the sides of the face. 

Waterproof work boots are a necessity and these, when coupled with thermal socks, should keep feet warm as well as dry.  Clothing should be layered for warmth and to enable the easy removal of any damp layers.  Standing still for long periods of time should be avoided if possible.

Be on the lookout for the following signs of hypothermia which may seriously affect the ability of workers to ensure safe practice during cold conditions:

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of co-ordination
  • Confusion and disorientation

Worker exposure to the cold can be limited through job rotation.  There should be heated break areas available where workers can warm up and get a hot drink.  Breaks may need to be more frequent during colder weather and there should be warm water available for hand-washing in comfort areas.

Whatever the weather brings this coming winter, it’s sure to get worse before it gets better again.  Making sure that workers do not suffer during the harshest months of the year will add to staff morale and ensure that productivity does not decrease as a result of the cold.