Construction work can be dangerous at the best of times, but throw in the additional hazard of extreme weather conditions and those dangers are enhanced, and accidents can easily happen. Any Risk Assessment a construction site has under normal working conditions must be reviewed and changed to take into consideration the additional risks extreme weather conditions bring. The weather can influence an individual’s ability to perform certain tasks or operate machinery safely as well as their overall effectiveness at their job.
Working in low temperatures
Working in the cold can affect the way people behave; maybe their concentration is lowered, or they are more likely to take shortcuts to avoid long exposure to extreme temperatures which could result in site procedures not being adhered to. The cold can affect a person’s ability to use equipment and tools safely, and there are additional risks of hypothermia and frostbite. It is essential that all workers are aware of the effects low temperatures can have on their bodies and recognise the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite so they can act on them. Low temperatures alone are not the main cause of these conditions, added factors such as wind and rain are usually the greatest risk when combined with a lower than normal temperature. The correct PPE is essential and should provide high insulation while allowing moisture to escape from inside of the clothing. It should be rain and snow proof and avoid restricting movement without being too bulky. A base layer of protective clothing can have excellent thermal qualities whilst keeping moisture away from the skin and being easy to move in. Protective gloves should not only prevent frostbite but must also be suitable for workers to operate machinery safely.
Working in strong winds
The biggest risk of working in strong winds is to people working at height and from loose or flying materials. Workers can be blown to the side, and if there is insufficient harnessing or side protection, the chances of falling are increased. Tower cranes and lifting activities are particularly at high risk from strong winds, and it is essential that no lifting activities are carried out in particularly high winds. Tower cranes should not be left in a fixed parking position and must be able to move with the wind whilst ensuring that nothing that can make contact with the jib within a 360-degree radius around the crane. It is also worth noting that strong winds can aggravate conditions such as asthma as well as damage or irritate eyes from dust particles and therefore appropriate eye and or breathing protection may be required.
Working in snow and ice
Ice and snow present various obvious hazards on construction sites in regards to slips and falls. Prior to any work taking place in these conditions, snow should be removed and ice areas treated to prevent accidents from occurring. Walkways and pedestrian areas should be cleared, and traffic routes gritted to prevent vehicle collisions. In addition to the obvious hazards of working in snow and ice, consideration should be given to the weight snow can add to the load limit of roofs, decks or floors.
Working in construction in extreme weather conditions introduces a whole new scope of risks into what is already a high-risk environment. Having the right risk assessments, procedures and protective equipment for workers are essential, as is ensuring that worker well-being is at the forefront of any decisions taken about the works that need to be carried out. Every employer has a duty of care to its workforce under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and this includes protecting your workforce if they have to work outside in extreme weather conditions.