It can be difficult to manage health and safety on a construction site at any time of year, but given the potential for accidents during the colder months, how can you improve construction site safety this winter?
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics for 2018/19 show 1.31 per 100,000 construction workers suffered a fatal injury at work – a figure three times that of the ‘All industry’ rate for fatal injuries.¹
So what are the main dangers of working in construction during the winter in particular, and what steps can you take towards better construction site safety?
Main dangers for construction workers in winter
The main threats to safety on a construction site in the winter months include:
- Reduced daylight hours causing hazards to be less obvious
- Colder temperatures making it more difficult to grip construction tools and equipment
- Ice and frost causing slips and falls
- Snow making driving construction vehicles more hazardous
How to improve construction site safety
Use additional lighting
The short winter days in January and February mean you may need to introduce more lighting than is needed at other times of the year – this helps workers avoid hazards that aren’t obvious in the half-light at the beginning and end of each day.
Grit or cover areas of frozen ground
One of the biggest threats to construction site safety in the winter is frost, ice, and snow, particularly when the ground is already wet with rainwater. The water freezes over but the ice isn’t always visible, especially when workers are carrying heavy loads.
It’s important to heavily grit problem areas, or cover them to provide a steady surface for boots and tyres. Falls from height accounted for 49% of the fatal injuries to construction workers in 2018/19,¹ and with walkways, ladders, and scaffolding potentially being very slippery in the winter, gritting or covering all of these dangerous areas should be a priority.
Provide appropriate work wear and breaks
Thermal socks and a warm liner beneath hard hats help to prevent heat escaping too quickly, and reduce the risk of worker frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot. Wearing several layers of clothing also makes it easier to stay warm if the top layer gets wet and has to be removed.
Providing warm break areas is crucial in these conditions – as well as offering a space for hot food and drinks, it allows for a change of work wear as necessary without further exposure to the cold or wet weather.
Shield workers from the worst of the weather
Put up shields in advance of bad weather to protect construction workers from the harshest conditions, and keep out some of the strong winds, driving rain, or heavy snow. You could timetable outdoor work to be carried out in pre-planned short timeframes, so workers aren’t exposed to the harsh elements for too long.
Acorn Health and Safety is a nationwide health and safety consultancy helping construction site and property managers with their H&S obligations.