The winter season heralds numerous challenges in terms of safety on construction sites. Freezing temperatures that drop below the freezing point give rise to slippery conditions, winter conditions like ice, snow, heavy rain, and the demanding equipment maintenance practices introduce safety hazards that construction workers need to be vigilant about. Despite all these difficulties, it is possible to continue construction work during the winter months. In this article, we will focus on the key points to consider regarding winter construction safety, covering aspects from Greenweight crane counterweights to appropriate clothing choices, workplace controls to health conditions.

The simplest way to prioritize job site safety for construction workers during the winter months is to go through the OSHA cold weather safety regulations that we will address in our article.

OSHA Cold Weather Safety Regulations

While there are no specific regulations for ensuring employee safety during the winter months, OSHA recommends the following considerations for winter construction work:

  • Employers should educate workers on how to prevent cold-related health hazards such as frostbite and trench foot.
  • Employers and workers should closely monitor their physical conditions to ensure they are not ill.
  • Employers should provide frequent breaks throughout the day to give workers a chance to warm up.
  • Employers should schedule work for the warmest parts of the day and avoid scheduling tasks during excessively cold periods.
  • Workers should work in pairs to assist each other.
  • Employers should provide warm and sweet beverages to workers.
  • Employers should clear walkways and work surfaces of snow and ice to prevent slip and fall incidents. Workers should take small steps and wear appropriate footwear.
  • Employers can use heaters or create wind barriers to keep workers warm.
  • Employers should avoid assigning workers to work on rooftops or other elevated surfaces during snowy conditions. If necessary, they should provide fall protection equipment and training. Workers near power lines should be cautioned to be careful.
  • Necessary tools should be provided to workers to ensure safe and proper work during winter months.

Avoiding Dangers of Working Construction in the Winter

While winter months present various challenges for everyone, construction workers are particularly susceptible to dangers brought about by cold weather. However, with the implementation of necessary precautions and the provision of appropriate training, a safe working environment can be established in winter construction conditions.

In terms of winter construction safety, the first step is to identify potential hazards in advance. Below are some of the hazards that can be encountered on construction sites during the winter season:

Vehicle Use

Driving in winter comes with certain risks for everyone. Construction workers may also face risky situations when driving vehicles or operating machinery in winter conditions. Therefore, workers should always wear high-visibility winter jackets, and safety signs such as cones and barriers should be used in driving areas. Additionally, workers should be trained on vehicle and machinery use in snowy conditions.

Cold Stress

Construction workers exposed to extreme cold or working in cold environments are at risk of cold stress. Cold stress is a dangerous condition that can lead to rapid heat loss from the body, resulting in illness or injury. Types of cold stress include:

  • Trench foot, a type of tissue damage caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions. It presents symptoms such as swelling, pain, redness, cramps, blisters, and numbness in the feet. It can damage blood vessels, nerves, skin, and muscles.
  • Frostbite, often affecting the fingers, toes, nose, or earlobes, can lead to permanent damage. Symptoms include reddened skin with gray or white patches, pain, tingling, numbness, and hardening of the affected area.
  • Hypothermia, which occurs when the body temperature drops below 35°C (95°F). It results from the body losing more heat than it can generate over an extended period. Symptoms start with uncontrolled shivering, hoarseness, and fatigue and can progress to confusion, speech impairment, numbness, slowed heart rate, and breathing. Severe hypothermia can be life-threatening.

Shoveling Snow

Neglecting snow clearing tasks in winter construction conditions can be harmful to workers. Snow clearing can lead to back injuries, exhaustion, dehydration, or even a heart attack. To prevent this, workers should take frequent breaks, lift snow using the correct technique, and warm up before snow clearing.

Using Snowblowers

Using snowblowers, while easier than shoveling snow, can result in injuries like electrocution or lacerations. Workers should ensure the machine is turned off before clearing jams and avoid using their hands to remove material from the snowblower.

Working at Heights

Winter weather increases the risk of falls due to slippery snow and ice-covered surfaces. Snow can also hide sharp objects and debris. Workers should always be cautious of these hazards.

Winter Construction Safety Tips

Whether you’re an employer, workers, or operators working on a construction site, everyone should be aware of the safety issues that cold weather can bring. In this way, the dangers that working on a winter construction site can pose can be overcome, and work can proceed smoothly.

To eliminate potential risks, it’s important to pay attention, be aware of the dangers, and take the following precautions.

1. Wear Appropriate Clothing

One of the best and easiest ways to protect employees from injuries caused by cold weather is to dress appropriately for the weather conditions. In situations where it’s not possible to avoid cold weather and adverse environmental conditions, follow the cold weather construction clothing recommendations below:

  • Dress in layers for better insulation and wind protection (at least 3 layers).
  • Opt for loose clothing that won’t hinder blood circulation in the body.
  • Use a mask to cover the face, mouth, and neck area.
  • Wear a hat to reduce heat loss from the head.
  • Put on insulated gloves.
  • Wear insulated, waterproof boots to protect your feet.
  • Keep extra clothing with you in case you get wet while working and need to change clothes.

In addition to these measures, wearing high-visibility clothing and using personal protective equipment (PPE) is still important in winter construction conditions. Always make sure to wear clothing that provides high visibility as the outermost layer.

2. Be Prepared for Freezing and Thawing Effects

During the winter season when temperatures vary significantly throughout the day, construction workers must consider the potential effects of freezing and thawing on the job site. Due to temperature fluctuations, melted snow can refreeze and form ice. This situation can create highly slippery conditions on roofs and flooring. In cold weather, especially roofs made of thermoplastic olefin (TPO) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) become more hazardous.

Additionally, fluids used in machinery, such as lubricants, can thicken in cold temperatures. To prevent this, it is necessary to use additives suitable for cold weather.

3. Stay Hydrated

Just like always, in the winter season, it is important for workers to consume an adequate amount of fluids. Workers should drink warm beverages or water and avoid beverages containing caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine, being a diuretic, leads to water loss and dehydration. Dehydration can result in hypothermia. Alcohol, on the other hand, increases heat loss from the body.

4. Look out for Health Conditions

Employees should be educated about the signs and symptoms of health conditions they might encounter during the winter months. This way, they can know when to seek help. Workers at risk of cold stress should also be closely monitored.

5. Take Breaks in Heated Areas

In cold weather, workers need to take frequent breaks to warm up. Employers should provide heated areas to meet this need. Additionally, employers should encourage workers to change wet clothes and consume warm beverages in these heated areas. During these breaks, signs of hypothermia and cold stress can also be checked.

6. Inspect Worksites

Winter weather conditions such as snow, ice, and wind can lead to power lines falling, trees toppling over, and the formation of slippery surfaces. Therefore, employers should inspect the construction site before each shift and clear any damages or accidents that could affect the workers. Additionally, precautions should be taken against potential hazards hidden beneath snow and ice.

Accumulated snow and ice on scaffolding, roofs, stairs, walkways, and similar surfaces can create slippery conditions. To prevent accidents, snow and ice on the worksite must be thoroughly removed. Furthermore, caution should be exercised regarding accumulations of snow and ice that could fall from roofs, posing a risk to those below.

7. Monitor Weather Reports Closely

Construction managers should pay attention to weather reports to prevent workers from being affected by cold weather and to mitigate risks such as cold stress and frostbite. They can utilize various sources such as radio broadcasts and websites to obtain these reports.

Additionally, they can refer to tables that indicate how frequently workers should take breaks during tasks conducted in winter construction conditions.

8. Find Alternative Work Methods

You can’t change cold weather conditions, but work methods and equipment can be replaced with safer alternatives. For instance, workers can use enclosed platforms with much lower fall risk instead of slippery ladders, or heated cabins can be utilized in machinery to provide warmth. Look for ways to replace the risks arising from weather conditions with safer alternatives.

9. Implement Administrative and Engineering Controls

To minimize the potential issues caused by cold weather, you can implement the following administrative and engineering controls:

  • Use plastic sheeting or tarps to shield workers from the wind.
  • Educate workers about the risks, symptoms, and preventive methods of cold-related discomforts.
  • Adjust work hours based on the warmest times of the day.
  • Mandate the practice of the buddy system among workers.
  • Provide warm and portable toilet facilities for workers’ restroom needs.
  • Maintain a sufficient stock of salt, shovels, fuel, tow chains, etc., and conduct regular supply checks.
Okan Ergin

Okan Ergin

Okan Ergin has been working as the General Coordinator at Ergin Makina since 2005.