Winter is coming. In some parts of the country, the freeze is already in full swing and it can be brutal. This shift requires careful preparation on construction sites to ensure cold weather construction safety and avoid weather-induced damage to equipment.
With our decades of industry experience and close ties with construction experts, we’ve gathered the five most essential tips for safer winter construction. From insulated protective wear to winterizing heavy equipment, preparing for the winter months reduces the risk of injury and costly damage.
Staying informed is the first step towards effective safety planning. Get ahead of the cold weather curve by developing a plan of action ahead of time.
1. Equip workers with weather-appropriate gear
Of all the things to consider heading into winter, worker safety is a top priority. Low temperatures and wind chill make working outside quite uncomfortable–even risking frostbite and hypothermia. On top of that, icy conditions can make sliping and falling a greater danger. In an effort to combat winter-related injuries, OSHA released a guide on preparing for severe weather construction and preventing serious slips and falls.
It’s critical to stock sufficient wet weather and cold weather gear such as winter hats, insulated work gloves, high-traction footwear, and high-visibility jackets. When workers are more comfortable, they’re more productive. Not only does this streamline your project and require less time out in the cold, but it also protects you from liabilities.
2. Winterize equipment and heavy machinery
No matter if you’re running trucks, forklifts, compressors, or electric power tools, winterizing all of your equipment ensures that they continue to work effectively. Winter maintenance may include:
- Applying winter lubricants
- Conditioning hoses with winter-specific hydraulic oil
- Using anti-freeze in critical cooling systems
- Installing engine block heaters
- Running engines to operating temperature before use
- Performing daily inspections
- Regularly removing snow, dirt, and debris from equipment
Whenever possible, it’s recommended that you store your equipment in enclosed storage containers. Diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), for instance, freezes when exposed to low temperatures for an extended period of time.
3. Shuffle your on-site work schedule
Severe cold weather conditions can significantly impact scheduling and project timelines. Ideally, contractors have taken winter into account when strategizing their project timelines well in advance. Certain tasks like concrete work are virtually impossible in the rain or snow. Working on a structure, however, is more doable so it’s important to time tasks out accordingly.
Prepare to provide more frequent breaks for workers so that they can warm up indoors or around a heat source. Icy road conditions pose a danger for workers traveling to the jobsite so you can expect project delays.
Even more, daylight savings means that a substantial part of the working day is dark. You may want to invest in industrial light towers or start earlier to take full advantage of the sunlight. While frustrating, adjusting your work schedule can help avoid injuries and create a more realistic timeline.
4. Monitor weather forecasts regularly
It should go without saying that staying in the know on weather forecasts helps make sure you aren’t blindsided by extreme weather conditions. While not always accurate, weather forecasts can help you gauge potential productivity levels and help you determine if the work schedule needs to be readjusted.
5. Plan ahead and prepare for added costs
Investing in heaters, tarps, industrial work lights, and other icy/wet weather materials can be costly. It’s important to incorporate these costs into your budget ahead of time. There’s also a high probability that there will be seasonal inventory shortages on equipment such as construction dumpsters, portable toilets, and temporary fencing.
We typically tell customers to secure their necessary rentals weeks–sometimes even months in advance. Winter can be a stressful time in the construction sector; however informed preparation can minimize weather-related issues. Keep the above tips in mind to help keep your workers safe, equipment operable, and project timeline realistic.