As most construction employees work almost exclusively outdoors, the weather plays a significant role in their daily working conditions.
While there is an expectation that workers will sometimes need to work in rainy, cold or snowy conditions, your duty of care to provide employees with a safe working environment still applies.
Should one of your staff suffer injury or illness and hold you responsible, you could face a costly Employers Liability claim under your Construction Insurance policy.
As such, employees must be prepared and educated on handling weather conditions safely.
What Are The Risks of Cold Weather?
Working in the extreme cold can be dangerous for employees, and precipitation and wind exacerbate that danger.
Cold stress can lead to tissue damage, hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot – conditions that can cause serious injury or death.
Factors that contribute to cold stress are cold air temperatures, high-velocity air movement, dampness of the air and contact with cold water or surfaces.
Therefore, it is important to remember that even temperatures of 10° C, with enough rain and wind, can cause cold stress.
How To Improve Site Safety in the Cold
There are several recommended precautions that employees should take while working in cold or dangerous weather:
#1 Take Regular Breaks - Encourage regular breaks to get warm.
#2 Drink plenty of liquids - But try to avoid caffeine and (of course) alcohol.
#3 No smoking - Smoking is not only a fire hazard, but it can also constrict blood flow to the skin.
#4 Be aware of Medication - If workers are under medication, some may have side effects in the cold weather.
#5 Medical Awareness - Understand and be mindful of the main symptoms of cold-related illnesses and injuries.
Suitable Protective Clothing
Provide written guidance to your team in terms of the suitability of clothing for both protection against injury and the weather. We would suggest recommendations include:
- At least three layers: something close to the skin to wick moisture away, an insulation layer and an outer wind and waterproof layer.
- Outer layers should be loose to allow ventilation and prevent overheating.
- Hat when not wearing a hard hat, or under the hard hat when necessary.
- Insulated boots.
- Gloves – not only can the cold cause injuries to exposed skin, but cold hands also make workers more prone to injury when handling machinery or other objects.
Carry Out Suitable Employee Training
Cold, rainy or snowy weather can cause unusual conditions and higher risks, so it is essential to train employees on safety procedures.
They should understand the dangers of exposed skin, insufficient protective wear and cold, wet or slippery equipment. Employees also should be trained to recognise and treat cold-weather illnesses and injuries.
Driving Company Vehicles In Cold Weather
Another concern regarding inclement weather is employees who drive a company vehicle as part of their working day.
Driving in severe weather can be extremely dangerous, so it is important to take precautions. All vehicles should be given a safety check by a mechanic before the bad weather hits, and they should also be equipped with emergency materials such as a snow scraper, blanket, first aid kit and torch.
To protect your company against liability, any employees who may drive in bad weather on company time, regardless of whether they drive a company or personal vehicle, should be trained in safe, cautious driving techniques and what to do in case of an accident.
All of these cold and inclement weather provisions should be included in your safety plan and discussed before and during the duration of bad weather.
Whether your employees come in to work on a given day may depend on the weather conditions. In uncertain weather, you may not know until the night before, or even the morning, whether your employees will be allowed on site that particular day.
As such, you must have suitable contact information in place to inform your employees, including a backup method if they cannot be reached on their phone.
Risk Management Is Critical
Before bad weather hits, you should be prepared, and your employees should be informed of all relevant safety rules and policies to keep in mind.
If you are proactive in tackling bad weather conditions by taking the appropriate risk management precaution and documenting your assessments, you can minimise the impact on your business and employees.
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