If you’ve been working on a construction site in Britain for a while then it’s very likely you’ll have the had many experiences of working in rainy conditions.
While the odd shower isn’t so bad, persistent rain can result in some pretty unpleasant working conditions on site (and in other outdoor working environments). As well as posing a number of risks associated with workers getting cold and wet, rain can increase the chances of people falling victim to other hazards like slips, falls and accidents caused by poor visibility.
As we’ve had a few Autumnal downpours over the past few days, in this week’s blog, we’re talking about the dangers associated with working in rain and what steps can be taken to stay safe.
Rainy weather hazards
Just like snow or ice, rainy weather can be a significant health and safety hazard.
Slipping and tripping are the most common injuries on UK construction sites and, because rainy conditions make surfaces more slippery, this is when the danger increases.
There are also risks around driving vehicles in rain (particularly around the increased stopping distances) and in situations where workers’ body temperatures dip during cold, wet weather.
When this happens, workers can experience chilblains – itchy red patches which can appear on the fingers, toes face and legs when exposed to cold and damp conditions. In more serious cases, they can experience hypothermia. This is when the body temperature drops dangerously low and causes symptoms such as fatigue, uncontrollable shivering, confusion, skin turning blue, dilated pupils, a slow pulse and slowed breathing. Hypothermia can be a life-threatening condition so, if suspected, it’s really important to seek urgent medical attention.
Another problem that’s easy to overlook is simply the fact that, when you are wet and cold, you are at a greater risk of making mistakes or poor decisions that could result in a safety issue.
What should you do?
In the UK, there are no regulations which say people cannot work in the rain. However, employers in construction do have responsibilities for the safety of their workers and, for example need to take steps to ensure site conditions are as safe as possible, provide people with training on how to avoid/ minimise hazards, and make sure workers are using suitable PPE.
On-site operatives share this responsibility around staying safe and need to be playing their part at a personal level. Here’s our top tips for what you should be doing while working in the rain:
- Move with caution – While bad weather may make you want to more quickly so you can finish and get out of the rain, this can be dangerous. The rain will cause surfaces to become more slippery so you actually need to work more slowly and carefully.
- Choose the right footwear – Go for a shoe or boot that has a deep tread to prevent slipping and, if it’s cold wear thermal socks too.
- Wear appropriate rain gear – Invest in the best weatherproof coat you can (ideally one that helps to deter the rain, wind and the cold). Also think about the material used in your other work gear. Because work clothes are often worn for long periods, it’s important to find clothing that offers comfort and some form of ventilation. If it’s particularly cold, you might want items that use wool or synthetic materials as this provides added insulation.
- Protect your hands – Make sure your gloves offer a strong grip, fit snugly and are long enough to tuck under your coat sleeve, thereby preventing water from getting through any gaps.
- Ensure adequate vision – When working in the rain, visibility can become poor (even more so if it’s already dark outside). Make sure the lighting on site is adequate and that any lights you use are rated for outdoor use. As well as taking steps to prevent rain getting in the way of your vision (e.g. by wearing a hat), if you have to wear glasses or goggles on the job, there’s the risk of fogging up to consider. To avoid this, use some anti-fog spray or wipes on them before you step outside.
- Be seen – Wear high-visibility clothing at all times, especially in areas where there is heavy machinery or vehicle traffic. Make sure your rain gear or vests are in good condition and have not become dull or lost their reflective qualities.
- Use the correct equipment – Do not use any electrical tools or equipment that has not been specifically rated for outdoor use. With hand tools, make sure to choose items that have non-slip grip handles.
- Report incidents – Know who is responsible for safety and, if you spot either a hazard on site or a colleague experiencing the ill-effects of bad weather, report it immediately so that corrective action or treatment can be swift.
- Rotate the workload – On days when the rain never seems to stop, one way of limiting exposure is to rotate the workload among your team. This might mean giving workers the chance to switch to some indoor activity for a while or at least to take breaks so as the change clothing.
Although there are no rules and regulations about whether people working in construction can fulfil their daily duties in rainy conditions, there are clear accident/ injury risks associated with this type of bad weather and so it is obviously sensible to take precautions. Using the right equipment and workwear is an important factor in maintaining safety, as are measures such as slowing down, taking breaks and knowing how to report incidents. Prioritise safety and the rain doesn’t have to be a problem.
Feature image: Pexels