Some businesses take breaks during the winter months, but not the construction industry. They brave the cold and carry on, but with the cold months come additional safety concerns. Freezing temperatures, gale force winds and less light to name a few. With the UK having the coldest winter in 48 years in 2017/18, these issues are becoming increasingly prevalent. Check the tips below and make sure your construction site is prepared for winter.
Before the freeze
Be proactive. Properly maintain construction site before the cold descends. Consider what construction will take place during the winter months. Before the ground begins to freeze install silt fence, sediment filters, erosion control blankets etc. Secure any existing structures such as scaffolding, fencing, and all construction materials such as ladders. Also, look ahead to when the ice will thaw. Hard dry soil can become muddy and wet after thawing, which will migrate downslope. Installing surface stabilisation practices and barriers will help prevent this and stop soil movement.
It is also highly important to safeguard pipes from freezing. The cold temperatures in winter can cause water running through pipes to freeze. These pipes can then expand and may burst. Insulating the pipes using fibreglass or polythene will stop this from happening. If a pipe does freeze, never thaw it with an open flame. This can cause fires to break out and steam explosions to occur. Instead, slowly thaw areas with a heat gun/lamp or a space heater. These tips can also apply to any water tanks on site.
Ensure Construction Site Material Integrity
Cold temperatures do not just lead to safety concerns on construction sites. Materials used in construction are heat sensitive. For example, cement must not be allowed to freeze up to 24 hours before it is poured or placed, otherwise the required strength levels will not be reached. When bricklaying, mortar mix must be kept from freezing and needs to be sufficiently warm in the early stages of use, else the product quality will be affected.
Temperature and humidity can also have a significant effect on drywall mud. If the mud is too cold then it can take days for it to dry sufficiently before you can apply other wall finishes. At low temperatures, the effective lifetime of paint significantly reduces and becomes susceptible to mould and mildew formation. To stop the temperature affecting the materials of construction, refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines which should cover how to store/use materials in winter conditions.
Install Temporary Roads/Walkways
Construction site organisation in winter is key to both safety and operational aspects of the site. Your construction site probably involves transport of heavy machinery throughout the day. Set up temporary roads and footpaths to allow for construction traffic. Buildings under construction will require clean access points to all roads/footpaths. Doing all this minimises the effect construction will have on soil and keeps the construction site both clean and safe.
Use Grit and Salt
When temperatures are freezing all roads and footpaths, temporary or otherwise, need grit or salt applied to them every day. This will clear away snow and stop frost forming, nullifying any safety hazards. This is crucial if roads and pathways are to remain operational in the coldest winter days and also to ensure safety of workers.
Getting Rid of the Snow
Snow blocking access points or roads need to be ploughed away. Snow piles should be established downhill at the end of the construction site. This will reduce the amount of water flowing through the construction site when the snow melts. These snow piles also need regular inspections during melting to remove any debris. Inspect the site regularly to make sure no snow pileup is going unnoticed.
Safety Hoists and Safety Netting
Accessing hard to reach areas in construction mean hoists are often needed. In harsh winter conditions, such as heavy rain, freezing temperatures or strong winds these should not be used. Plan ahead and organise any of this work for the milder months.
Set up safety netting when working in high areas, i.e. roofs. Winter brings strong, gale force winds meaning working in high areas can be increasingly dangerous. This will ensure employee safety.
Heat Source Safety
With the freezing temperatures, portable heaters will occasionally be necessary. These, however, bring added hazards which need to be considered. Inspect heaters to make sure they are not dangerous to use. Additionally, place heaters on fire-resistant surfaces and keep the area properly ventilated.
Reduced sunlight in winter is a concern, especially when work will carry on till late. In preparation for winter, make sure you install lights so your workers can see what they are doing.
Hypothermia, frostbite and chilblains can all be caused by prolonged exposure to cold weather. Look after employees at this time. This can include warming stations where hot drinks and heaters are available during breaks. It is beneficial to have more employees operating shorter shifts to reduce individual exposure.
Ensure all workers are wearing suitable clothing. To help blood flow and insulation workers should wear multiple warm loose layers. Gloves, hats and thermal socks will help to insulate extremities.
Stay tuned for the next article in our Winter Series.
Featured Image © Christopher Burns