Contractors and Cold: Preparing Workers for Winter Construction

happy construction workers

Construction during the winter season poses challenges to general contractors and subcontractors alike. Wet weather, freezing temperatures and frigid winds can present serious safety concerns. By taking a few extra safety precautions, contractors can ensure the safety of visitors and personnel on the job site.

Increased Safety Risks During Winter Construction

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of construction industry work-related fatalities increased by 6 percent in 2014 with fatal injuries attributed to slips, trips, and falls also on the rise. Worksite conditions can be especially concerning during the winter months as snow and ice can accumulate quickly and create potential hazards. Cold temperatures combined with winter winds can cause wind chills to plunge. In these conditions, heat can leave the body rapidly putting workers at significant risk for cold stress.

Increase Worksite Safety Through Engineering Controls

When preparing a worksite for winter construction, contractors should know ahead of time if the season will present specific challenges. By implementing certain controls, contractors can increase worker safety. Here are a few examples of preventative measures to take:

  1. Clear all walkways and workspaces of snow and ice, paying close attention to scaffolds and work platforms to reduce slips and falls.
  2. Ensure when clearing roads and walkways of snow, the snow is not piled so high as to block the view of workers and vehicles.
  3. Use wooden pallets to store building materials and prevent them from sticking and freezing to the ground.
  4. When possible, use plastic sheeting or a construction tent to create an enclosed workspace, blocking cold winds and increasing the efficiency of portable heaters.
  5. When using portable heaters, ensure they are working properly, placed on a fire-resistant surface and in an area that is properly ventilated.

Tips to Improve Worker Safety

One key recommendation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to provide training to workers on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses. OSHA has created a cold stress card which can be a useful tool for employers in training subcontractors to recognize when their health is at risk. It lists the symptoms of conditions such as frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot and provides recommendations for immediate on-site treatment, such as:

  1. Actively monitor workers in cold climates for signs of cold stress.
  2. Require workers to dress in layers to protect from the cold and wear insulated outerwear.
  3. Provide appropriate protective gear when necessary such as hats and gloves to reduce the amount of skin exposed to the cold.
  4. When temperatures are extremely low, mandate frequent breaks in a warm area.
  5. Provide warm, sweetened, non-alcoholic beverages such as coffee or hot chocolate.

Live Oak Contracting is Southern, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t experienced what it’s like to work in colder climates. Our recent case study, Winter Construction in Connecticut, for details on how we handle the challenges posed by winter weather. Contacts us to bring your dream project to life.

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Live Oak Contracting believes in building long term partnerships based on integrity. From our Clients to our team of professionals, we incorporate a collaborative approach to every project, ensuring the highest quality product delivered on time and in budget.

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