Skip to main content

5 Ways for Construction Workers to Put Safety First This Winter

Winter has reached the Northern Hemisphere, which means it is a great time to brush up on best practices for working safely in cold weather. Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, employers have a responsibility to provide workers with a place of employment free of hazards, including those related to winter weather (5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970). Wintry conditions such as ice, snow, frost, freezing rain, and frigid temperatures present a unique set of hazards that are absent in warmer months.


Read below for five quick, simple ways for construction site teams to keep safety first on jobsites this winter, based on OSHA’s Winter Weather Preparedness Tips:


1. Monitor Physical Conditions


Working in a cold environment can cause various adverse effects on the human body and its physical performance. In colder environments, the body must work harder to maintain a safe temperature. When temperatures drop drastically and wind chill increases, heat leaves the body faster than the body can burn energy to produce it. This can quickly lead to serious danger.


The ability to quickly recognize the symptoms of cold stress is important for preventing cold-related injuries. According to OSHA, cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the body’s core temperature. Common risk factors for cold stress include  wetness/dampness (e.g. sweating), dressing improperly, exhaustion, and poor physical conditioning.


While it is important to be aware of your own physical conditions on the jobsite, it is also imperative that you pay close attention to your fellow coworkers’ well-being to prevent cold-related safety incidents.


2. Wear Appropriate Clothing


A primary method for preventing cold stress is to dress appropriately for the weather conditions. When low temperatures and adverse environmental surroundings cannot be avoided, make sure your clothing adequately protects you from the cold.


  • Wear multiple layers for better insulation and wind protection
  • Use looser clothing that will not inhibit warm blood from circulating throughout the body
  • Prevent heat loss through the head by wearing a winter hat and covering the face and neck
  • Wear insulated gloves and waterproof boots


When incorporating these items into your winter jobsite wardrobe, remember to include high-visibility clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE). In winter, it’s common to experience sudden fluctuations in temperature, wind, and precipitation, so monitor conditions throughout the day and be ready to add or remove clothing, jackets, and coveralls while maintaining high-visibility clothing on the outermost layer. For added safety, keep extra clothing on hand in case you get wet on the jobsite and need a change.


3. Review Worksites and Upcoming Weather Conditions


Actively monitoring weather conditions during the winter, having reliable means of communicating with other workers, and being able to stop work or evacuate when necessary are safe work practices to protect from injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. It’s also important to be aware of any national weather advisories or public warnings issued through radio, television, and mobile networks. If you are notified of a winter storm watch or warning, follow instructions from your local authorities and be prepared to adjust your work schedule, transportation plans and clothing choices accordingly.


4. Be Prepared for Freezing and Thawing Effects


When temperatures vary on an hourly basis during this time of year, it is critical to be aware of the potential effects of freezing and thawing on a construction jobsite. Temperature variations can create slippery conditions on both roofing and decking. Thermoplastic olefin (TPO) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) roofs can be especially hazardous during cold weather. Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to address this occurrence, because most ice-melt chemicals void a warranty when applied, and shoveling can tear these thin membranes. In most cases, the only redress is to begin work later in the morning to give snow and ice time to melt naturally. Walking on decking is also especially dangerous in the winter. Unlike with TPO/PVC roofing, we can typically clear the decks by shoveling. However, before applying any chemicals to melt the ice and snow, it is important to check with a supplier to inquire if certain melting chemicals are recommended that will not damage or degrade decking materials.


5. Pay Special Attention to Walking and Working Surfaces 


Walking around a jobsite can be dangerous under even the best conditions. When freezing rain, snow, and frozen ground are added to the mix, safety on the jobsite becomes increasingly challenging. OSHA’s General Industry Standard 1910.22(a)(3) requires that walking/working surfaces are maintained free of hazards such as sharp or protruding objects, loose boards, corrosion, leaks, spills, snow, and ice. Encourage site teams to develop site logistic plans that include clearly delineated travel paths around the site, early start times for snow removal and salt crews, and later start times when icy roads could cause vehicle accidents. Consider adding line items to Job Safety Analyses (JSAs) and inspections of equipment, tools, and scaffolds to address possible accumulation of ice and snow.


For more comprehensive information on how to prepare for and respond to severe winter weather, visit OSHA’s Winter Weather webpage.


To learn more about Gray’s dedication to safety and to explore the Gray Safety 7, visit Safety at Gray.


    Get the Latest.