Luke Rothwell, Director at Bunkabin, asks what construction firms can do to improve their health and safety standards during the winter months?
In the UK, there are 2.3 million people working in construction, according to the most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) Workforce Jobs by Industry report. For these employees, working outside is part of their daily occupation, so when winter temperatures arrive, the risks associated with outdoor working are exacerbated considerably.
Since nothing can be done to change the weather, businesses need to be aware of the hazards that come with the colder months, and should put all the necessary precautions in place to ensure their staff are able to carry on working safely and productively.
The onset of icy or inclement weather can result in outdoor working becoming difficult or even impossible, which can damage productivity to a degree that impacts on the organisation’s bottom line. Here, Bunkabin has provided practical advice explaining the biggest pain points associated with working outdoors in winter and how to work around them.
Plan around snow and storm-related disruptions
Severe snow or stormy weather can result in shutdowns and delays for projects that rely on outdoor labour. This can lead to companies having to pay staff for work that was not completed – or, alternatively, staff can end up missing out on pay due to not being able to reach their workplace.
To help reduce the disruption caused by severe snowy or stormy weather, employers should plan around the possibility of winter disruption, and either reschedule tasks to work around it or allow time for potential delays in the overall project schedule. Other actions to be taken include:
- Covering surfaces and equipment with protective plastic sheeting
- Digging drainage ditches to prevent rainwater or melted snow from causing flooding or freezing
- Providing staff with the right clothing and protective equipment to carry on working safely through bad weather
Consider working around the shorter daylight hours
During winter, the earlier sunsets can make it harder to complete essential outdoor work, as the lack of light leads to reduced visibility and a potentially greater risk of accidents – especially when this darkness is combined with inclement weather conditions.
A work schedule should be developed that maximises the amount of work that can be completed during daylight hours. Additionally, investing in on-site lighting will allow staff to safely continue their work even after the sun has gone down.
Help staff work around traffic disruptions
Projects involving outdoor work are often reliant on workers’ ability to commute to and from the site. When the weather is bad, these commutes become subject to congested traffic conditions, slippery roads and poor visibility – all of which can lead to delays or even road accidents.
To reduce the disruption caused by traffic, employers should help staff with route planning, encourage car-sharing schemes and support workers who may be able to reach the site more easily via public transport. Also, it may be worth providing temporary on-site accommodation, such as rented cabins from Bunkabin, to help reduce the need for travel to and from the site.
Prevent damage to infrastructure
Bad weather can have a lasting impact, even beyond the initial disruption – heavy rain or freezing temperatures can prevent work-related vehicles and machinery from functioning properly, while the accumulation of snow on structures that are still under construction can cause damage due to the weight.
As such, employers should ensure the essential parts of the site’s infrastructure are protected with plastic sheeting and drainage ditches. Before using equipment and machinery, ice and snow should be cleared away and thorough assessments of the functionality and safety of all on-site equipment and structures should be made.
Protect workers from cold-related illnesses
Winter weather isn’t just a threat to productivity and profitability – it can exacerbate the health and safety risks inherent to working outdoors, and put staff members in real danger of injury. Businesses have a legal and moral responsibility to take every necessary precaution.
Even if every other aspect of the worksite is safe, staff remain at risk of cold-related illnesses when working in winter, with examples including cold stress, hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot and chilblains. The consequences of these conditions can be serious if left unchecked.
To reduce the risk of workers getting a cold-related injury, employers need to:
- make sure staff are provided with the right clothing and equipment to protect them from the elements;
- ensure everyone on-site is aware of the telltale symptoms of cold-related illnesses;
- take steps to discourage people from trying to work through these symptoms;
- plan working schedules to coincide with the warmest parts of the day; and
- give staff frequent breaks to help them warm up.
Don’t let staff become overburdened
One of the downsides of providing staff with extra clothing and PPE during winter is the negative impact this can have on their mobility. Overburdened workers may find it hard to work effectively, and the additional clothing can also lead to them becoming dehydrated more easily.
To help tackle problems caused by worksites, employers should:
- Make sure staff are equipped well enough to feel warm, but not to the degree that they are hindered in their movement
- Ensure that staff take appropriate breaks when needed
- Provide workers with access to regular refreshments to help them stay hydrated
- Encourage workers to look out for each others’ wellbeing on site
By being aware of the most common risks and pain points associated with working outdoors in winter, your organisation can maintain productivity even during the coldest time of the year, while keeping your staff safe, motivated and happy!