Preparing Your Contractors for Cold Weather

27 October 2017

Winter is on the way and now is the time to get prepared. Weather-related safety incidents have led to calls to
‘Winterize’ construction projects, to ensure contractor safety and cold weather safety awareness is fully articulated in all aspects of training. Construction contractors could be outdoors for up to twelve hours per day, so it’s imperative for their safety that they take steps to keep themselves warm.

Of course, cold weather is not just limited to construction, other industries can also be adversely affected. In manufacturing, for instance, cold weather can harm machinery and significantly reduce productivity. In mining, low pressure, combined with low humidity can cause methane to ‘migrate more easily into the atmosphere’ and cause coal dust to become dry, increasing the chances of an explosion, according to the US Department of Labor. In fact, cold weather affects nearly all companies who use the roads as a way to deliver goods and materials, or to support their clients with field based staff. Inclement weather such as fog, ice and snow can cause mayhem by negatively impacting both the performance of vehicles as well as the safety of the roads.

The Risks

According to
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), contractors who are exposed to extreme weather conditions, such as freezing temperatures, may be at risk of cold stress. The institute classifies these cold weather conditions as dangerous situations that can “bring on health emergencies in susceptible people,” such as those without shelter and workers who may be exposed to the cold for long periods of time without the appropriate winter protection. According to NIOSH, the condition can vary depending on what part of the country you live in with regions “relatively unaccustomed to winter weather” especially prone to this kind of inclement weather.

According to NIOSH, cold stress has the potential to affect your contractor safety in a number of ways, including through cold-related illness commonly associated with working in cold conditions for long periods. These risks include Hypothermia, immersion hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), prolonged periods in cold, wet and icy conditions could lead to any of the above conditions developing, jeopardizing your contractor safety. In extreme cases, OSHA says, “exposure can lead to death,” with danger signs including “uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior.” A number of contributing factors may result in an increased risk of cold-related illnesses and injuries including; Dressing improperly, poor physical conditioning and wetness and dampness, according to OSHA. As well as bodily risks, your contractor safety could be seriously hampered by physical risks, such as falls, slips and trips due to inclement weather.

The Stats

According to the most recent figures from the
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fatalities resulting from falls, slips and trips increased to 800 in 2015, up from 793 in 2014. This is a much smaller rise than the 10% increase that occurred between 2013 and 2014, but the fact it’s still rising is concerning. Fatalities among contracted workers rose to 829 in 2015 from 802 in 2014 and accounted for 17 percent of all fatalities in 2015. Fatalities in the private construction industry rose by 4%, this figure driven by an alarming 27% increase in the number of fatalities of specialty trade contractors. Icy conditions no doubt play a part in this, illustrating how important it is that employers take measures, such as providing cold weather safety training and winter protection, to ensure their workers are not left exposed to a multitude of cold weather hazards.

Tips

Cold-related accidents and illnesses are preventable but require adequate preparation in order to ensure contractor safety. According to OSHA, outdoor work requires ‘proper preparation’, especially when you’re dealing with ‘severe winter conditions’, quite common on the East Coast of the US. Therefore, OSHA states that an employer has a ‘responsibility to provide workers’ with a place of work that is free from hazards, including those caused by harsh winter weather. Preparation starts by providing a number of things according to OSHA, including taking the following steps:

 

According to OSHA, you should train your workers in:

  • How to recognize the symptoms of cold stress.
  • How to prevent cold stress and injuries.
  • The “importance of self-monitoring and monitoring” co-workers.
  • How to provide first aid.
  • What type of clothing is appropriate to wear.
  • Monitoring weather conditions and reporting back to management.

You should also provide cold weather safety training for workers for what OSHA describes as related hazards, such as, slippery roads and surfaces, windy conditions, and damaged power lines. You should teach them how to recognize these hazards and the correct safety procedures to follow. You can protect your contractors by teaching safe working practices and offering advice specifically related to winter conditions.

Implement Safe Work Practices

The implementation of safe working practices will be a major component in your preparation process. According to OSHA, the implementation of the following can help reduce any risk to your contractor safety:

  • Give contract workers proper tools.
  • Develop work plans to prevent hazards during the harsh winter months.
  • Schedule maintenance and repairs for the summer months.
  • Provide “warm areas” for contractors during cold projects.
  • Monitor contractors who are at risk of cold stress.
  • Have a way to monitor weather conditions.

Provide Protective Clothing

This is a very important point and one that will ensure you can properly look after your contractor safety. Protective clothing, while important in every construction project, is needed even more during bad weather.
According to OSHA, as an employer you must provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that are required under OSHA standards. However, OSHA states there is ‘no OSHA requirement for employers to provide workers with ordinary clothing’, such as those needed during the harsh winter months. What this means is that it is up to the employer to provide weather specific clothing and equipment, such as gloves, jackets, raincoats, sunglasses, headwear and scarves, if you deem them necessary.

OSHA does recommend that employers advise the following for workers who are exposed to harsh conditions:

  • Wear at least three layers of clothing ‘layering provides better insulation’.
  • Wear a knit mask to cover your face and mouth.
  • Wear a hat that will cover your ears and can heat your whole body.
  • Wear an insulated coat or jacket.
  • Wear insulated gloves.
  • Wear foot protection that is waterproof.

How to keep your contractors informed

Keeping your contractors informed on all aspects of health and safety regarding harsh weather is an important and ongoing process. The first step in the process is to integrate the above points into your contractor orientations. This can be managed easily and efficiently by using online orientation software, which allows you to create all of your training on an online platform. You can also obtain outside information in order to keep your contractors informed of bad weather. In the US, you can use the
National Weather Service’s website to track the progress of inclement weather and ensure you safeguard your contractor safety. In the UK, the Met office have created a process where you can access location-based reports to stay informed of bad weather or approaching storms. You should also be aware that OSHA regularly inspects workplaces it suspects to be acting in an unsafe manner. Therefore, to avoid any citations or harm to your contractors, you should be fully prepared for the winter months.

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Jenny Snook
Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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