We may be less than a month away from the official first day of spring, but across the U.S. winter is still in full effect. From snow falling on both coasts to rains and floods in Tennessee – and even a foot of snow blanketing the Grand Canyon – winter still has the country in its icy cold grip.
With cold winter weather conditions come a specific set of safety concerns for your construction worksite.
These winter workplace safety tips will help keep you and your employees safe, no matter what the weather throws your way.
Review the Emergency Action Plan
If you’ve got 10 or more employees, OSHA requires a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Be sure to review your EAP with your employees and discuss the most common seasonal hazards that occur in your area. Review how winter conditions have affected construction operations in the past and outline what everyone can do to prepare for it.
Be sure to take into account events like power outages and blackouts from high winds and storms. Also consider proper snow and ice removal procedures, as well as evacuation plans and emergency escape route procedures.
Prevent Cold-Related Illnesses
Whether you’re roofing in Grand Rapids (where overnight lows hit single digits this month) or painting in Pennsylvania (where snowfall is transitioning into freezing rain), working in the cold can increase the risk of cold-related illnesses (also known as cold stress).
And we’re not talking about the sniffles.
Workers who are exposed to extreme cold or work in cold environments may be at risk of cold-related illnesses such as:
- Trench foot
What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress.
Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can leave your body more rapidly. These extreme weather conditions may lead to serious health problems.
Keep workers protected against cold-related illnesses by:
- Adapting personal protective equipment (PPE): Evaluate if changes in PPE are needed to ensure worker safety. Although OSHA requires employers to protect workers’ safety and health, it is not required for employers to provide workers with clothing items used solely for the protection against weather, like winter coats (29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4)).
- Preventing fatigue: Keep energy levels up and prevent dehydration by providing workers with warm fluids and water.
- Implementing a buddy system: Ideally, you should have employees work in groups of two or more, helping to monitor each other for symptoms of cold-related illnesses for added safety. Also, remind employees to keep their general health in mind.
Plan for Snow and Ice Hazards
This winter, snow is a hazard for almost everyone. Snow is falling in places like “sunny” California, “hot” Arizona, and even the Las Vegas desert.
Knowing how to properly clear snow off roofs and heights, prevent snow-and-ice slips, and avoid winter roadway accidents is critical for worker safety.
- Employers must evaluate snow removal tasks for hazards and plan how to do the work safely.
- A surface that is weighed down by snow must be inspected by a competent person to determine if it is structurally safe for workers to access it, because it may be at risk of collapsing.
- Protect workers by using snow removal methods that do not involve workers going on roofs, when and where possible.
- Clear walking surfaces of snow and ice, and spread deicer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm.
- Ensure workers recognize the hazards of winter driving and practice safe winter driving.
Winter isn’t letting up anytime soon, no matter what the calendar (or the groundhog) has to say. Implement these winter weather safety tips and you can ensure your construction worksites and employees stay safe -- and incident free.