There’s not an awful lot we can do about grim weather on job sites, and it will arrive at sometime – particularly in the UK! But, with a bit of straightforward anticipation and preparation, we can mitigate the worst of the risks posed by excessive wind, rain and snow during winter works.
Firstly, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on weather forecasts when planning a job, and organisations like The Met Office now provide detailed information specifically targeted at the construction industry. Make sure to get a good overview of incoming conditions before a job begins, and try to notify clients accordingly of any potential adjustment to schedules in advance. (Keeping detailed weather logs will also help you in the event of any delays – see the final section of this blog for more on that.)
Wind, cold and rain, in particular, can make life a bit of a misery on site – but there are a few easy steps you can take to reduce its impact on both workers and equipment.
Make sure sites likely to be exposed to wet or windy conditions have at least some enclosed and heated space for workers to take sheltered breaks and dry off any wet clothing, as well as sufficient hot running water for more regular clean-ups.
Keep a close eye on the operational conditions of walkways, traffic routes, material storage zones and any exposed areas where power tools are in use, and be sure to provide adequate splash-proof storage for all electrical equipment.
Using protective sheeting in particular risk areas such as scaffolding and roofing will help to mitigate the effects of both wind and rain, and cheap insulation materials such as PU foam or straw-padded matting can keep the worst of any sleet, snow or frost from damaging stored materials.
Particularly in windy weather, conditions on site can change rapidly, and they’re not always consistent across all areas of a works project. Generally speaking, increased exposure means that gusting winds are likely to reach much higher speeds at altitude than at ground level, so it’s especially important to monitor conditions for cranes, towers and anyone working at height.
The best way to do this is by using anemometers, which use mechanical or digital means to track wind speed and direction (both prevailing winds and sudden gusts), helping give you a crystal clear idea of what’s happening at various locations.
This is especially important when planning to lift and transport heavy or awkward loads, for example – an anemometer affixed to the boom of a crane can tell you exactly what sort of forces will be exerted on the load, and from which angle. Remember that maximum operational wind speeds aren’t always given in equipment user manuals, so if in doubt, always check with a manufacturer first.
Similarly, regular temperature checks are also important in either particularly hot or particularly cold conditions, as unseen damage to machinery – or, worse, to failsafe devices – can occur at extreme temperatures. Be especially aware of additional risk to workers in very warm weather, when they may be tempted to rid themselves of safety workwear in an effort to cool down. It can happen, even in the UK...so make sure there’s plenty of chilled drinking water on site in the summer months, as well as somewhere to take shelter from the sun.
Remember too that even at ground level, excessively wet, dusty, windy or cold conditions can dangerously limit hearing and visibility both inside and outside of vehicles, which can create serious risk to drivers and pedestrians alike on high-traffic sites. In those situations, it’s important to ensure that backup systems are in place to alert workers to potential threats when audible or visual warnings may not be easily observed.
Another good reason to keep an anemometer handy is that, in the event of works having to be stopped temporarily, it gives teams the ability to demonstrate to the client exactly what the conditions were in specific areas of the site (which won’t always be apparent to the casual observer on the ground). This not only allows you to indicate precisely where any delays or losses were incurred and why, but it will also help you to suggest any feasible steps to mitigate them.
Finally, remember that, if works do have to be suspended, it’s important to secure the site properly before leaving for the day. As well as posing a threat to physical safety, wet and windy weather presents additional problems for any inadequately secured materials and site debris – loose materials and loads exposed to the elements must be appropriately covered and tied, with extra attention paid to any potential pollutants or contaminants that could spread off-site in severe conditions.