Getting ready for winter in the construction industry means taking care of your equipment, your employees and the rest of the jobsite. Though OSHA doesn’t have specific laws for working in the winter, the agency does suggest taking extra precautions in harsh weather. Have a plan in place and don’t let winter weather slow you down this season.
Before cold weather ever hits, you should have winter safety procedures in place. No safety plan is one-size-fits-all, so make changes for unfamiliar jobsites and revise procedures that didn’t work last year. And before snow and ice covers the ground, repair hazards that could trip up your employees. Snow-covered potholes and uneven walkways could injure workers before they even step onto the jobsite.
Training is another task you can accomplish in the fall to get everyone on-site prepared for harsh conditions. How this training will be conducted can be part of your winter safety plan. Decide whether you’ll train by department or let employees sign up for training at a day and time that works for them. It’s also probably a good idea to offer extra training to any employees performing jobs that get more dangerous in the winter, like those that drive company vehicles or operate heavy equipment.
Before the project gets underway, look up average weather conditions for the area to get an idea of what to expect. But since weather can change at the drop of a hat, stay on top of the forecast throughout the project. Your winter safety procedure should cover what to expect when inclement weather shuts down the jobsite — don’t let a blizzard catch you unawares. When temperatures are extremely low, it can be dangerous to be outdoors for extended periods of time. Consider putting work off until temperatures rise.
Though construction workers are already expected to wear proper footwear and safety gear, winter conditions call for extra layers. Ensure your employees are wearing footwear that’s not only slip-resistant, but also keeps their feet warm and dry. It’s not a requirement, but some employers provide workers with winter coats and gloves—if you’re able to, it’s something to consider. And make sure everyone working outdoors knows how to recognize signs of cold stress, like frostbite.
Though this is a good rule-of-thumb year-round, in the winter daily jobsite inspections are even more important. Snow and ice can accumulate overnight and need to be cleared before work can begin. Any snow or ice removal needs to be done safely: snow blowers should be grounded before use, and OSHA advises clearing snow from roofs without putting workers on the roof itself. If icicles have formed, remove them, or if they’re too large, mark off the area so there’s no risk an icicle will fall on a worker. Make sure any routes heavy equipment use can support the equipment, and clearly mark dangerous areas with barricades and signs. It gets dark early through the winter months, so outfit workers and equipment of all types with reflective tape.
Winter makes areas that are already slippery and hazardous even worse. And with falls being a leading cause of injury and death in construction, there’s no such thing as too much fall protection. We talked about winter fall protections in an earlier post, so give it a read. Then, take advantage of OSHA’s educational materials and other resources about how to prevent falls in the construction sector — keep your workers safe this winter.
For worker safety, you should use heaters on the jobsite wherever you can. Heat an enclosed space for workers to warm up throughout the work day. Make sure workers are trained on how to operate the heater and that the area is properly ventilated, especially if you’re using a propane heater. And keep the area clear of any flammable materials and place the heater on a concrete or other non-combustible surface. If the heater malfunctions or seems like it’s not working correctly, don’t wait until something catches fire — get it fixed immediately.
Though this may seem like a lot of preparation, there’s no way to predict what the winter will bring. But when you take the proper precautions, you can prevent its worst effects on your jobsites.
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