Construction Safety in Freezing Weather Conditions

Due to the current freezing temperatures construction work is now even more hazardous than normal. When the body is unable to warm itself, cold related stress may result. Four factors contribute to cold stress: cold air temperatures, high velocity air movement, dampness of the air and contact with cold water or surfaces. A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. Cold air, water, and snow all draw heat from the body. Wind chill is the combination of air temperature and wind speed.

Risk Assessments need to be reviewed as extreme low temperatures greatly change and usually increase the risks associated with most external construction work. The following areas of work are particularly adversely affected by extreme cold conditions:

  • Work at Height – work at height platforms, roofwork, etc. will all become more hazardous if ice or snow are on them. The risks of falls from heights are increased as the risk of slips, etc. is greatly increased. This type of work should only be undertaken if absolutely necessary and sufficient additional controls are put in place.  For example – full check of all platforms and fall/edge protection, de-icing of work platforms, etc.
  • Slips, Trips & Falls –the risk of these are greatly increased due to icy conditions. Walkways should be cleared of ice and snow with regular gritting/ salting. Ensure hoses, etc. are not left running in areas as the excess water will freeze and cause a further slip hazard.
  • Construction plant operation –
  • caution must be exercised when accessing or egressing from construction plant as access steps and hand hold surfaces may be covered in ice.
  • wheel grip could be compromised and control of vehicles could be lost
  • Welfare Facilities – arrangements must be in place to provide adequate welfare facilities, especially an area where workers can go to warm up, change/dry clothes and get hot beverages.

The following should be noted when risk assessing and planning for construction work in extreme cold temperatures.

Cold Temperature Exposures, Injuries, and Controls on the Jobsite

1.   Wearing the proper clothes / PPE may be the most significant precaution to reducing cold stress. Wearing appropriate clothes for cold weather usually involves using three or more layers of clothing. Also use layering to protect the head, hands and feet.

2.   Drink plenty of fluids, preferably warm, sweet beverages. Thirst is suppressed in a cold environment and dehydration may occur when fluid intake is reduced.

3.   Increase caloric intake when working in cold environments. Workers in cold environments who wear heavy, protective clothing expend more heat and so require 10-15 percent more calories.

4.   If required, a work warm-up schedule should be used to provide periodic times for warm-up breaks. Additional breaks should be provided as the wind velocity increases and/or the temperature drops.

5.   Avoid the cold if you are becoming exhausted or immobilised. These conditions can accelerate the effects of cold weather.

6.   Engineering controls can be effective such as using heaters in areas, where practical, shielding work areas from winds and drafts, using insulating material on equipment handles, especially metal handles, etc.

7.   Select the warmest hours of the day, where possible, when braving the cold. Minimise activities that reduce circulation.

8.   Educate employees on symptoms of cold-related stresses: heavy shivering, uncomfortable coldness, severe fatigue, drowsiness and/or euphoria.

9.   Use the buddy system, work in pairs when working in extreme weather conditions so partners can monitor one another and obtain help quickly in an emergency.