Staying safe in freezing weather< Back to Blog

Snow and brickwork

The calendar may be about to flip over to March, but it seems Spring has been put on hold for a while!

With the UK gripped in a cold blast being dubbed the ‘Beast from the East’, parts of our region are contending with significant snow accumulations, sub-zero temperatures and hard overnight frosts.

In such adverse conditions, construction work can be even more hazardous than normal and may at times have to come to a temporary stop. Some tasks literally cannot be performed in low temperatures.

Some examples include:

  • Mortar can be laid only at +3 °C (Brick and blockwork)
  • Membrane and insulation adhesives require +5 °C (for single ply roofing)
  • Deck primers require +5 °C (for single ply and hot melt roofing)

Assuming you’re continuing to work, to ensure maximum safety, it’s up to construction managers to make sure their risk assessments address the added dangers that come with low temperatures. And, it’s up to every construction worker to take steps that minimise the effect of ‘cold stress’ on their own personal health.

Cold weather – on-site risk assessment

Snow shovellingIn addition to normal risk assessment tasks, it worth paying particular attention to the following, areas of work which can be especially affected by extreme cold conditions: *

Work at height – If platforms or roofs have snow or ice on them, the risk of falls or slips is greatly increased. This type of work should only be undertaken if absolutely necessary and where additional safety controls have been actioned, e.g. checking of fall/edge protection, de-icing of work platforms, etc.

Slips, trips and falls – Whether working at height or not, the risk of these type of accidents is greatly increased in icy conditions. Walkways should be cleared of ice and snow with regular gritting/ salting. Also ensure that any taps/hoses are not left running so as to avoid a further build-up of ice.

Snow and excavatorConstruction plant operation – In freezing weather, access steps or hand-hold surfaces may be covered in ice, so take extra caution when getting in/out of any construction plant. Also bear in mind that wheel grip may be compromised, leading to loss of vehicle control.

Welfare facilities – Make sure there are sufficient facilities to support workers’ welfare – e.g. somewhere to warm up, change clothes or get a hot beverage.

*This is just a sample of the things that should be covered via risk assessment, not an exhaustive list.

Cold weather – health and wellbeing of site workers

If the body is unable to warm itself, the result can be cold related stress, leading to conditions such as chill blains, frostbite, trench foot and hypothermia. Take care of yourself in just eight steps:

1.   Wear appropriate clothes / PPE - In cold weather, this usually means using three or more layers of clothing. Also use layering to protect the head, hands and feet.

2.   Snow hot drinkDrink plenty of fluids – In cold environments, you may not always feel ‘thirsty’ but your body definitely needs those fluids to prevent dehydration. Warm, sweet beverages are best.

3.   Increase calories –  Workers in cold environments who are wearing heavy, protective clothing will expend more heat and so require 10-15 percent more calories than usual. If it’s freezing out there, pack a few more snacks!

4.   Use a warm-up schedule – If you’re outside in the cold for long periods, then a schedule of warm-up breaks during the day will help keep your body temperature from dipping too low.

5.   Recognise when to avoid the cold - If you, or your colleagues, are becoming exhausted or immobilised then it’s time to stop.

6.   Deploy engineering controls – Some ideas include using outdoor heaters where its practical, shielding work areas from winds and drafts, or using insulating material on equipment handles (particularly those made of metal).

7.   Use a buddy system - Working in pairs is a good way to ensure workers are looking out for one another and can obtain help quickly if there’s a health or safety emergency. Particularly look out for signs of hypothermia in co-workers, i.e. excess shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination, confusion or blue skin. In the event of such symptoms, alert a supervisor and request immediate medical assistance.

8.   Drive safely – How you perform on your journey to/ from work is just as crucial as what you do on site. In snow/ ice, that means reducing your speed, avoiding harsh braking or acceleration, increasing the gap between you and the driver ahead, preparing an emergency kit in the car, keeping a watch on traffic warnings and so on. Check out our Winter Driving Guide for more tips.

Sheriff Construction is committed to maintaining the health and safety of its workers and wherever possible will move workers to alternate/ safer duties in extreme conditions.