Cold Construction – How Contractors Can Stay Safe this Winter

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Built Team
6 min
PUBLISHED: 02/5/2023

Winter construction presents difficulties for both general contractors and subcontractors. Weather conditions like rain, ice, and piercing winds can compromise one’s safety on the job site. While completing projects in frigid temps certainly isn’t ideal, it’s necessary to keep on schedule and stay within budget. Your customers are counting on you to get the job done. Here are a few strategies and safety measures that can help establish a safe work environment even in the harshest conditions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the number of weather-related fatalities on the job site fell by 18.5% from 2019 to 2020. However, in 2020, 41.5 percent (22 deaths) were from “ice, sleet, or snow.” Another 35.8 percent (19 deaths) were from “high winds, gusts, and turbulence.” Wintertime worksite conditions can be particularly dangerous because the weather is less foreseeable. Wind chills can drastically increase when cold temperatures are combined with swirling winds. The unpredictability of the weather and the strain cold air puts on the body puts workers at serious risk of injury.

Contractors should be aware of any unique challenges the winter construction season may present before preparing a worksite. Contracting companies can improve worker safety by putting in place specific controls. Here are a few general precautions to take:

  • When using portable heaters, make sure they are operational, situated on a surface resistant to fire, and in a space with adequate ventilation.
  • Make sure the snow is not piled up so high that it obstructs the view of workers and vehicles when clearing walkways and roads of snow.
  • To prevent slips and falls, work to remove snow and ice, paying close attention to scaffolds and work platforms, from all work passageways.
  • Finally, while it may seem obvious, storing materials in frigid temps can cause them to stick together. Combat this using wooden pallets and tarps to store metal tools, pipes, etc.

Another measure is layering clothes. The best materials for layering are synthetics like polyester, merino wool, and fleece because they retain heat without trapping moisture or perspiration. However, even with all these layers, you still need to be able to move freely and comfortably.

While these scenarios are broad, taking specific safety measures that could be the difference between an accident occurring and not. When it comes to equipment, your employees should understand how to operate their industrial tools during the winter. The majority of equipment manufacturers will provide instructions on how to perform cold starts or warm-up equipment before use. Delays caused by accidents can severely impact your client’s trust in your business. Taking these measures can help you protect your employees, but also your reputation as a safe and efficient general contractor.

Finally, always be aware of the weather. Inclement weather can turn dangerous without allowing for time to prepare the job site, so always be diligent about checking the weather. Speaking of diligence, make sure to thoroughly be inspecting job sites for possible ice build-up–especially after storms that produced a lot of precipitation.

You can lessen the effects of winter weather on your employees and help keep them safe from the bitter cold by developing organizational plans to ensure worker safety throughout winter. Start the year on the right foot: discuss workplace safety and health early and often in the winter months. These safety recommendations for cold-weather workers may even save lives. From a business perspective, operating efficiently when the weather isn’t on your side can be positive for growth. Plenty of GCs can complete work when the conditions are favorable; but how will your company set itself apart?