In the construction industry, your employees work almost exclusively outdoors and the weather can dictate their daily working conditions. Sometimes, they must work in the rain, snow and/or cold - it is important that you educate employees on handling these conditions safely. Poor weather conditions can also impact your other responsibilities as an employer, so you need to be prepared.
Cold Weather Risks
Working in the extreme cold can be dangerous, particularly when exacerbated by precipitation and wind. Cold stress can lead to tissue damage, hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot - all conditions that can cause serious injury or death. Factors that contribute to cold stress are cold air temperatures, high velocity air movement, dampness in the air and contact with cold water or surfaces. Therefore, it is important to remember that even temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius, with enough rain and wind, can cause cold stress.
Safety in the Cold
There are several precautions that employees should take while working in cold weather:
- Take breaks to get warm.
- Drink plenty of liquids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Avoid smoking, which constricts blood flow to skin.
- Be aware of any cold weather-related side effects that their medication(s) may have.
- Know and understand symptoms of cold-related illnesses and injuries.
- Stretch before physical work to prevent muscle pulls and injuries.
- Wear protective clothing when it does not interfere with personal protective gear and equipment:
- 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 or hood 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.
Cold, rainy or snowy weather can cause unusual conditions and higher risks, so employees must be trained on safety procedures. They should understand the dangers of exposed skin, insufficient protective wear and cold, wet or slippery equipment. They should also be able to recognize and treat cold-weather illnesses and injuries.
Driving Company Vehicles
Another concern regarding poor weather is employees who drive a company vehicle as part of their workday. 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 flashlight.
In order to protect your company against liability, any employees who may drive in severe weather on company time, regardless of whether the vehicle is company or employee-owned, should be trained in safe, cautious driving techniques and on what to do in case of an accident.
All of these provisions should be included in your safety plan and discussed before and during the onset of such weather.
Whether your employees come in to work on a given day may depend on the weather conditions. In uncertain weather conditions, you may not know until the night before or morning of if your employees will be working that day. As such, it is essential that you have communication channels in place to inform your employees, including a backup method if they cannot be reached on their phones.
Before bad weather hits, you should be prepared, and your employees should be informed of all relevant safety rules and policies. If you are proactive in tackling bad weather conditions, you can minimize the impact on your business and employees as much as possible.
Contact a CapriCMW Risk Advisor for more information and resources on insurance or risk-related matters.