As with hurricane season, winter brings the threat of storms and unique safety issues. Yet many of the dangers of winter weather are known quantities. That can make preparation easier compared to what is required for hurricanes, but planning for winter is still critical.
We asked the experts what contractors can do now so work can stay on schedule when winter weather hits as well as to ensure workers will be protected from potential cold-induced injuries and illnesses.
Protecting your people
Few would disagree that worker safety should be the top priority on job sites, regardless of the weather. It should come as no surprise, then, that OSHA has prepared a guide to prevent slips and falls caused by icy, wet conditions, as well as for the prevention of winter-related injuries due to cold stress, such as frostbite and hypothermia.
Marc Ciaramitaro, director of field operations at Windover Construction, in Beverly, MA, said even though hot weather can be just as dangerous for workers, OSHA and other groups seem to take cold weather more seriously. "I think [workers] feel it more," he said. "Working in the cold is more uncomfortable."
For example, fingers and hands aren't as nimble in the bitter cold. And although workers might sweat in warmer weather, they don't see and feel the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke as readily as they do cold stress, he said. Windover gives its employees winter hats, high-visibility jackets, work gloves and rain gear as the weather warrants.
If a job doesn't yet have a protected, enclosed space where employees can gather when the temperature begins to drop, Windover provides space in a finished portion of a building, in an office trailer or elsewhere on the site where workers can warm up.
Michael Sanchez, chief of construction operations at Shawmut Design and Construction, in Boston, said the company briefs workers at weekly safety meetings on how to take extra precaution in winter weather conditions. The company will hold additional, ad hoc meetings if it expects extreme weather. Shawmut also provides winter gear for its employees.
At Windover, routine toolbox talks begin incorporating the subject of winter job site dangers and cold hazards sometime in November, before serious winter weather kicks into high gear.