The recent cold snap is a reminder to us that working outdoors in such conditions is not exactly the most pleasant thing any of us could be doing and that, once again, it’s time for our industry to brace itself for the winter months ahead.

During these months, we all need to be aware of the potential hazards that come with harsher weather, recognise that some tasks could take longer to complete and be prepared to make adaptations when planning work activities.

If you’re working on site this winter, here’s our handy guide to surviving the cold.

What are the hazards?

We all know that construction sites can be hazardous at any time of the year but, during winter, it’s important to take extra precautions. This is because:

  • Snow and ice can make surfaces extra slippery (a leading cause of slips, trips and falls).
  • Rain can cause issues associated with the use of electrical tools (e.g. electrical shock if the wrong types of tools are used).
  • Winter weather can result in reduced visibility in the work zone.
  • Working in the winter conditions for long periods can lead to hypothermia or other cold stress related conditions.
  • Ground conditions can become unstable.
  • Driving conditions can be more hazardous.

Staying safe this winter

In order to keep a construction site running effectively during the winter, steps must be taken to ensure the hazards don’t result in accidents, injury or ill-health of the people working there or cause any damage to the works. We think there are three key actions to take.

1. Assess the site

When winter weather looks severe, the first thing to do is to ensure the conditions and working environment are properly risk assessed. That means looking at aspects like whether engineering controls and safety practices can be followed; is there adequate lighting within all work areas and walkways; what extra PPE might be required; are safety signs and boards visible; will tools, equipment and materials work properly under the circumstances; and if there are sufficient worker welfare facilities (allowing for hot beverages/ meals and warm-up breaks).

2. Look after the body

If your body starts to lose heat faster than it can make it, this can lead to cold stress and potentially hypothermia (with symptoms ranging from shivering to loss of consciousness). To avoid this, workers need to focus on what they wear, how they fuel the body, ensuring they know how to recognise problems and also a bit of pre-work preparation.

What to wear: Layers of thin clothing are warmer than a thick jumper or coat and thermal underwear will give added protection against the cold. When needed, ensure to wear sufficient waterproofs (in good condition), gloves and warm footwear. You might even go for two pairs of socks but make sure your footwear doesn’t become too tight (as this can restrict blood flow and may cause more harm than good).

Fuel the body: This one’s simple. When the temperature dips and you’re working a physical job, the body needs fuel. Try to get a hot meal during the day and plenty of warm drinks too.

Know your stuff: Take some time to learn about the signs and symptoms of cold stress and then use that knowledge to monitor your own physical condition and that of your co-workers. Take a look here for more information.

Preparation: If you’re undertaking manual handling activities or using vibration tools in the cold, it’s a good idea to warm up first and be prepared to take breaks where you can exercise the arms/hands/fingers to maintain good circulation. Staying dry is another area that you need to plan for as, if you keep moisture/ dampness on your clothing, this can increase the rate of heat loss from the body. So, in winter months, always keep extra clothing with you so that you can change during the day if you need to.

3. Be a cautious driver

Icy conditions can be extremely hazardous for pedestrians and very challenging for drivers of moving vehicles. At the site, pedestrian walkways, site entrances and roads must be gritted to avoid people slipping and vehicles losing control.

When driving in the dark or adverse weather, leave more space between you and the vehicle in front as this will give you more reaction time for braking.

Before you set off, make sure the vehicle has been well-maintained and run a few checks, looking at things like whether all the lights are working, the tyres are in good condition and if the washer bottle been topped up. If snow/ ice has enveloped your vehicle, be sure to clear it fully before starting our journey. It’s a good idea to also check local travel reports so that you can adjust your route if there are issues on any particular roads.

Winter weather can be tough for outdoor workers but, by taking a few precautions, it doesn’t have to cause extreme distress or completely stop the work from progressing. Be prepared to adapt your working programme when necessary, take time to learn about the dangers and what you can do to avoid them, and maintain the focus on safety at all times.

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Feature image: YevhenProzhyrko/