Tips to Improve Safety on Winter Construction Projects

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The winter months present unique challenges for many construction projects. As the temperature drops and the wind picks up, working outside can be even more difficult. However, with proper planning, your crews can avoid the winter blues and be productive and safe by following these tips.

Reduce exposure to the elements: During the cold winter months, the brutal wind, snow and low temperatures make for challenging conditions for crew members working outside. If possible, consider scheduling outside work in shorter durations, breaking up larger projects into smaller tasks, or alternating between inside and outside work. Job rotations may also be a solution.

Warm break area:When crew members are exposed to the cold and winter wind, they will need a place to take periodic breaks from the elements to warm up. This can be achieved by using a heated trailer or a tent with portable heaters.

Indoor heaters: Ensure that you have had heaters inspected prior to use and that they are working properly. Always ensure repairs are made promptly if necessary. Place the heater on a sturdy, fire-resistant surface and make sure hoses are protected from damage and excessive heat. The area where the heater is being used must be properly ventilated to allow excess fumes to escape. Keep combustible materials 10-15 feet away from heaters. Propane and other flammable gas cylinders must be stored upright and chained. For Construction Pros offers 17 Tips for Using Propane Heaters on a Jobsite.

Watch the weather:Keep a close eye on the weather forecast and communicate any important weather-related news that may impact work activities. Know when temperatures and conditions could make outside work more dangerous. From a quality control perspective, make sure you understand how low temperatures could impact building materials and processes.

Use proper gear: Employers should require all workers to wear clothing that will keep them warm and dry to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Also, be certain that clothing does not become a hazard and become entangled with moving equipment or rotating parts.

  • Thermal insulated coveralls are designed to largely eliminate core body heat loss.
  • Helmet liners under a hard hat are very effective at preserving neck and head heat. Fleece lined fabric is very comfortable and a good insulator. Keep spares on hand and wash the liners regularly.
  • Glove selection is also very important. Fabric and texture need to be suited to the job, but try to find gloves that allow the worker to use a warm liner or look for thermal gloves. Consider all work applications to ensure gloves do not get caught in rotating parts or machinery.
  • Wrap-around eye protection can also help preserve body heat. There is a lot of blood flow in and around the eyes, and wearing glasses can minimize heat loss and prevent irritation.
  • Scarves are very effective at protecting the neck and chest from heat loss, and they allow easy adjustment or removal for cooling as needed. (Remember to be mindful of any loose clothing that may get entangled with equipment or moving parts which could result in serious injury).
  • Double-layer thermal socks and insulated boots are a good idea if you’re going to be standing or walking on cold surfaces. When possible use composite toe boots which provide equal protection without the added cold of steel toe boots.

Skin Care: Use skin cream, moisturizer, barrier creams, etc. on any exposed skin. This may ward off hypothermia and avoid frostbite on any exposed skin.

Review work sites every day: As part of a safety huddle, be sure crew members check the work area for possible hazards such as ice on floors. It is best to chip up and remove ice from these areas or provide treatment with sand or kitty litter to improve traction. Also, look for and remove any icicles that may become falling object hazards.

Prepare vehicles for the winter: Before heading into the cold season, all work vehicles should be inspected to determine if they are fully prepared for the winter months. Items such as tire pressure, radiator fluid, window washer fluid, and the battery should be checked as well as other general safety items.

  • Employers could also add winter emergency kits to work vehicles.
  • Off-road equipment should also be inspected. Skid steers, loaders and all-terrain forklifts are utilized in the snow and cold conditions all winter long.
  • It is critical to keep this type of equipment clear of ice and mud that can often build up causing components to seize up and not turn properly.
  • Equipment should also have proper engine oil, coolant/antifreeze, hydraulic oil and fuel to match up with the colder temperatures.
  • With applicable equipment, ensure the heating and defrosting systems are functional and inspect the cab door and window seals to ensure that heat won’t escape.

Train workers on the signs of frostbite and hypothermia: Supervisors and workers need to know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite so that if anyone shows these signs, they can receive immediate medical attention. For information on the signs and symptoms as well as what to do for treatment, please refer to these CDC website links below:

Proper fuel for the crew: When working in the cold, avoid drinks with caffeine. Consume water or warm decaffeinated beverages and eat hot, high-calorie foods to encourage the body to burn the food and keep warm. Foods such as soup, chili, bread, bagels, pasta with tomato sauce, baked potatoes, cereals, peanut butter, lean meat, and low-fat cheese are good choices.

To discuss these recommendations, feel free to contact me directly at poconnor@rcmd.com or at 410.769.6498. For additional tips for other winter weather hazards, check out OSHA’s winter weather precautions website.

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