5 Ways for Construction Workers to Put Safety First this Winter
As temperatures drop, construction workers must remember to never leave safety out in the cold.
Winter is here, which means it is a great time to brush up on seasonal safety best practices. 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 winter weather related hazards (5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970). Wintry conditions such as ice, snow, frost, heavy rain and frigid temperatures present a unique set of hazards that are absent in warmer months. Though there are several practices to pay special attention to during winter months, here are five quick, simple ways for construction site teams to keep safety first on jobsites this season, 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 ability to perform, and it can increase the risk of common hazards and cold-associated injuries. To maintain healthy temperatures in colder environments, the body is required to work harder, but when temperatures drop drastically and wind chill increases, heat is apt to leave the body more rapidly. 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 internal body temperature, or core temperature. Common risk factors for cold stress include but are not limited to 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 in order to best prevent any cold-related injuries on them as well.
2. Wear Appropriate Clothing
A main preventative of cold stress is dressing appropriately for the weather conditions. When low temperatures and adverse environmental surroundings cannot be avoided, there is apparel that will ensure you are properly equipped for the cold:
- Multiple layers for better insulation and wind protection
- Looser clothing that will not inhibit warm blood from circulating throughout the body
- Mask to cover the face, mouth and neck
- Warm hat to reduce the amount of heat released through the head
- Insulated gloves
- Insulated, waterproof boots for foot protection
When incorporating these items into your winter jobsite wardrobe, high visibility clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) must still be worn. It is common this time of year that the day begins beautifully with sunny, warm temperatures but ends with a below-freezing snow. Therefore, it is important to remember that, as we add or remove clothing, jackets and coveralls throughout the day, we always maintain our high-visibility clothing on the outer-most layer.
Pro Tip: For cold stress prevention and 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, according to OSHA. It is important to also be aware of the specific public warnings provided by the community: sirens, radio alerts and television. If you are notified of a winter storm watch, advisory or warning, follow instructions from your local authorities. Take those warnings seriously and 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. The aforementioned temperature variations can make for very 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. As well, shoveling can tear and rip these thin membranes. In most cases, the only redress in this situation is to begin work later in the morning and give the snow/ice time to naturally melt. 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.
5. Pay Special Attention to Walking and Working Surfaces
Walking around a jobsite can be extremely dangerous under even the best conditions. When freezing rain, snow and frozen ground are added to the mix, safety on the job site 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. We encourage our 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 bad roads could cause vehicle accidents. We also recommend adding line items to Job Safety Analyses (JSAs), equipment, tool and scaffold inspections to address possible accumulation of ice and snow.
Given these five ways for construction site teams to keep safety first this winter, this list is not exhaustive, nor can you ever be too cautious or too safe. For more comprehensive information on how to better prepare for and respond to severe winter weather, visit OSHA’s Winter Weather webpage.
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