The Builder’s Digest

The Top Winter Safety Tips for Builders [Roundup + Checklist!]

Posted by Chandal Nolasco da Silva on Nov 8, 2019 10:51:54 AM

Every year builders in the Northern Hemisphere (and some occasionally in Texas!) prepare for winter’s worst and thankfully we talk about it. Sharing the best safety advice is one way we can help each other out and prevent injuries on the job this winter. Our peers have provided really helpful pro tips over the years and we took the liberty of putting them all together. Consider this your getting-ready-for-winter-building guide and read on!

Winter Jobsite Preparation

Preparing your job site(s) for winter isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law in many countries. Gray Engineering Architecture and Construction reminds us that in the US for example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and its General Industry Standard specify that employers need to keep job Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 5.20.24 PMsites free of winter hazards and walking surfaces shouldn’t have ice or snow on them.

Removing ice and snow is particularly important on any kind of slippery surfaces like scaffolding, ramps, and ladders. Stock excess amounts of sand nearby to help with traction. However in larger ploughing jobs, the snow removal process can actually worsen conditions. To mitigate slippery surfaces caused by snow removal equipment, Construction Pros advises builders to distribute grit and use a non-salt based de-icer. As a prevention measure, any pot holes, ditches or uneven surfaces should be filled or clearly marked and/or barricaded in the Fall.  These indicators need to be clearly visible even after heavy snowfall. Don’t forget to plan for a worst-case-scenario spring melt and build channels for water run-off. 

Every ounce of winter-preparation you put into your job site will pay off, with every snowfall, every melt and refreeze. 

Keeping Employees Safe

Aside from snow and ice removal, keeping builders warm and on their feet is top priority during the winter months. Frostbite, hypothermia, and injuries related to slips and falls are the most common winter hazards builders face. Certain conditions can make it even worse. According to the DMC Group, dampness, exhaustion, poor health conditions and improper winter apparel can exacerbate the effects of cold on construction sites. Anyone who has ever worked outside on a winter day knows the risks are real.

High Risk Cold Temperatures
When the temperatures drop below zero, serious tissue damage can occur through frostbite and/or painful inflammation of blood vessels called chilblains. In extreme scenarios, prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can lead to hypothermia and death. 

High Risk Populations
Cold weather is a serious hazard to anyone working outdoors, but some are at greater risk. Builders who aren’t used to the cold can be more likely to suffer the impacts of extreme temperatures. The human body performs differently in the cold, arteries become constricted and blood pressure increases. That means working outdoors is especially dangerous for anyone with coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes, warns Construction Pros

Back Injuriestodd-trapani-QqB1LtMS9ok-unsplash
Anyone with these medical conditions shouldn’t be responsible for snow shovelling. Similarly, “ergonomic injuries that can result from improper shovelling techniques or by picking up too much snow with the shovel, creating a heavy load that is often carried or thrown awkwardly,” says the DMC Group. They advise builders to take time with the crew to review proper snow shovelling techniques. Spending a few extra bucks on shovels or a snow blower can help too.

Slips and Falls
Slips and falls on job sites are common come wintertime. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of workdays missed for a winter weather slip-and-fall is nine days. To prevent slips and falls prevention through snow and ice removal is key, like we discussed in the previous section.

Insufficient Equipment
While it’s important to have durable, water-proof, wind-proof winter personal protection equipment (PPE), Construction Pros says that this equipment can also reduce mobility and become hazardous because of how bulky it can be. They explain that when a builder’s PPE is insufficient it can create:

  • “Blocked vision or loss of peripheral vision
  • Layering around ears preventing hearing
  • Eyewear fogging
  • Snow glare
  • Decreased dexterity
  • Lack of mobility
  • Inadequate traction for ground conditions”

Making Winter Warmer for Builders

Aside from reviewing proper safety techniques, there’s a lot builders can do to make winter a little more bearable. Limit exposure to the elements, wear the right gear and make sure to check the weather with a reliable weather app, says Indiana commercial builder Mejer Najam. They also recommend educating staff on early signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Builders working outdoors should try to work during the warmest hours of the day, have heaters onsite and schedule breaks dedicated to warming up. The Irish Health and Safety Authority (HSA) provides some employee-specific advice to help reduce the impact of cold weather:

  • Wear at least three layers of clothes, making sure to cover head, hands and feet
  • Stay hydrated with warm sweet beverages
  • Increase your caloric intake by about 10-15% to make up for the additional energy spent regulating your body temperature in the cold
  • Know your limits and don’t push them
  • Insulate metal handles on equipment
  • Have a buddy system at work and do tasks in pairs

Maintaining equipment will also keep crews safe on the roads and around the job site.

Preparing Your Work Vehicle

Even people who aren’t builders prepare their vehicles for winter, so if you depend on your truck for work, make sure it’s winter-ready - and we’re not just talking about adding antifreeze windshield washing fluid. Builders can prepare their work vehicles for the cold season using the following advice:

Check both engine and hydraulic oils. Make sure the fluids you have are rated for regional temperatures and replace them if inadequate. 

Add antifreeze windshield washing fluid and keep a backup jug in your vehicle. Install durable rubber or silicon wipers, made for winter. It goes without saying that you should repair any cracks or damages in your windshield immediately regardless of what season it is.

Make sure that you clear snow off your vehicles thoroughly everyday, especially on windshields, wheel wells and steps. A 32-point inspection is a great idea, but at the very least ensure that heaters are working properly.

Employers can also prepare their staff for a safer season of driving by providing winter driving training courses and making sure vehicles are stocked with emergency supplies like blankets, gloves, flashlights, jumper cables, flares, emergency food and water etc.

Material Tune-Ups and Performance

Aside from vehicle maintenance, tools may also require a winter tuneup. There are so many tools for builders that this process looks really different for different tools. Construction Pros explains:

  “Drain fluid from air compressor tanks after each use to prevent the moisture that has accumulated from freezing and damaging the tank. Put antifreeze tool oil in your pneumatic tools and air hoses to protect against the cold...ensure that tools are used differently in cold weather. For example, fire empty nail guns at 40 PSI in freezing temperatures to warm them up before use.”

While these specifics are really useful for winter builders, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Make sure to research winter safety precautions and maintenance information for tools. 

Researching cold temperature performance is key for other building materials as well. Concrete, drywall, paint and masonry may not set properly. The main concern is freezing temperatures and moisture. Builders who have to work on these types of projects into winter months can help the situation with concrete sheeting and heating units, but only if the temperature is mild.

Builders also have to be careful not to damage materials with melting chemicals during the winter. TPO/PVC roofing will perform differently than decking when de-icing agents are applied. 

Before winter sets in, get to know your materials - what needs tuning and what won’t work at all. Check to make sure salt and other chemicals for snow and ice won’t ruin your hard work. It’s always worth the extra effort.

Take Time for Safety

Safety doesn’t just happen, it takes time, money and communication. Block off time each morning and again in the afternoon to review incoming weather patterns and existing conditions on the job site and make considered decisions about how — or if — work should proceed. Make time to review safety on the job, signs of hypothermia, frostbite or even winter-driving courses. Help new employees acquire the right gear. Go out of your way to clear job sites properly and prepare your equipment for the very best and safest winter performance. Encourage workers to go slow and instruct them to mark everything clearly. And with all of this in mind, remember and plan for the fact that jobs are going to take longer, but that’s ok in order to do them right and prevent any injuries.

Your Winter Job Site Safety Checklist

We’re wishing all of our friends, family and partners in the building and construction industry a safe, warm and productive winter. Use the following checklist to make this season a little safer for your crew.

Job Site Safety

  • Keep job sites free of winter hazards, ice and snow 
  • Stock excess amounts of sand around the job site to help with traction
  • Distribute grit and use a non-salt based deicer after snow clearing equipment
  •  Fill potholes, ditches or uneven surfaces in the Fall
  • Clearly mark and/or barricade any dangerous areas that may become invisible in the Winter
  • Prepare the site for Spring drainage if applicable

Crew Safety

  • Review proper snow shovelling techniques with the crew
  • Buy durable, water-proof, wind-proof, winter personal protection equipment that’s not too bulky
  • Limit exposure to the elements, and make sure to check the weather with a reliable app
  • Educate staff on early signs of frostbite and hypothermia
  • Work during the warmest hours, have heaters onsite and schedule warm-up breaks 
  • Wear at least three layers of clothes, making sure to cover head, hands and feet
  • Stay hydrated with warm, sweet beverages and increase your caloric intake by about 10-15%
  • Know your limits and don’t push them, work with a buddy if possible

Vehicle Safety

  • Check both engine and hydraulic oils
  • Make sure the fluids are rated for regional temperatures 
  • Add antifreeze windshield washing fluid and keep a backup jug in all work vehicles
  • Install durable rubber or silicone wipers, made for winter 
  • Repair any cracks or damages in your windshield
  • Test vehicle heaters 
  • Provide winter driving training courses for staff
  • Stock emergency supplies like gloves, jumper cables, flares, water, blankets etc.

Material Safety

  • Insulate metal handles on equipment
  • Drain air compressors after each use 
  • Use an antifreeze tool oil in any tools using compressed air and inside air hoses
  • Research how to use your tools and materials in the winter (ie. warm up nail guns)

Image Credits

Feature Image: Unsplash/Franz Roos

Image 1: Screenshot taken November 2019 from Weekly Safety

Image 2: Unsplash/Todd Trapani

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