Being in the South, we usually focus on the heat when it comes to protecting workers from the elements. That being said, just because we aren’t facing arctic conditions doesn’t mean that workers aren’t at risk during the winter months. OSHA provides a plethora of information on cold stress and other winter weather related hazards that can be useful for any construction company. Here are a few basic guidelines to get you started on preparing you and your crews for the safety measures that should be taken in the winter months ahead:
Cold Stress – According to OSHA, cold stress is easily prevented, but often the risk goes unnoticed. Especially in warmer climates, cold stress is not usually factored into the equation when assessing job site safety. The truth is that near freezing temperatures are enough to be a contributing factor for cold stress. Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. Once the body is at a level where it can no longer warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries can occur and lead to permanent tissue damage or worse. Types of cold stress include: trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. It is important for employers to properly train and monitor crews for cold stress.
- Prevention: Prevention is possible through training. Crews should know how to recognize environmental and workplace conditions that can cause cold stress, as well as the symptoms of cold stress and how to treat workers. Additionally, make sure crews understand proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions and that uniforms meet the climate requirements.
- Monitoring and Planning: Employers should monitor weather conditions and the wind chill temperature so that they can gauge workers’ exposure risk better and plan how to safely perform under daily conditions. It is also important to monitor workers’ physical condition during tasks, schedule short breaks in warm areas, provide warm beverages and schedule projects at the warmest part of the day.
In addition to protecting workers from cold stress, there are other precautions employers can take to increase safety on the job site during winter months:
- Providing workers with the proper tools and equipment to do their jobs
- Develop plans that identify potential hazards and the safety measures that will be used to protect workers.
- Inform clients of inclement weather or severe temperature drops and schedule longer stretches of outdoor work for warmer months.
- Rotate and consider using relief workers or splitting shifts to cover long or demanding jobs during extreme cold.
- Establish a reliable means of communicating with workers, especially in remote areas and have regular check-in/reporting times throughout the day.
- Stay informed – NOAA provides multiple ways to stay informed about winter storms. If notified of a winter storm watch, advisory or warning, follow instructions from your local authorities: NOAA Weather Radio
Regardless of the season or weather it may bring, job safety should be number one priority on the job site. By having a plan and ensuring that your crews are following safety precautions, you can rest assured knowing that your crews are properly trained to have a safe and productive winter season.
For more guidelines and tips from OSHA on Winter safety and precautions, visit OSHA’s Winter Weather page. To gain access to the HBW database and receive custom and detailed reports on the latest residential and commercial building activity in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma, please contact HBW for details.