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Staying Safe on Site in the Winter

23 Nov 2015

As the Bewick swans from Siberia touch down early in the UK, they bring with them a weather warning that one of the coldest winters is due upon us in 2015.

In the UK, our winters tend to be mixed and a particularly bad one can easily catch us out. We’re all too familiar with the chaos that ice and snow bring to UK infrastructure but even knowing this, would you be prepared if your vehicle broke down in heavy snow and it was hours before you were rescued? Would you recognise the signs if a colleague became hypothermic on your construction site? What can you do at home to ensure loved ones remain safe and protected?

There are a few very simple precautionary practices that can be taken to ensure that you and your team are maximising their chances of staying safe on site in the winter, some of them could well be life-saving.

1. Wellbeing

First and foremost is to look after yourself and understand if you or a colleague are feeling unwell at work then your line manager must be informed. Failing to do so could result in an accident or injury as often judgement and ability are impaired by illness. To slow the spread of germs, use a hand sanitizer and cough or sneeze into a tissue to avoid spreading germs.

Pre-existing conditions such as HAVS (Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome), asthmas and arthritis can be aggravated by cold weather. Heart attacks also happen more frequently in winter months due to increased blood pressure putting additional strain on the heart muscle.SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is also more prevalent in winter. A form of depression linked to reduced levels of natural daylight, it is a condition that can be improved by staying active and staying social with colleagues.

2. Winter weather


During high winds, take shelter, do not work at height and ensure loose objects outdoors are secured.In icy and snowy conditions make sure that you clear a safe path on driveways and garden paths, using salt to reduce the slippery effects of ice. At work, hand-operated gritters should be available. If clearing snow on site at work, be aware that this is considered a high-risk activity and a Risk-Assessment will most likely be required. Underfoot, watch out for areas prone to black ice.

At home, ensure pipes are insulated and if away from the home for a period of time that heating is left on for some part of the day/night to avoid burst pipes.In severe rain or flooding do not enter a hazardous environment, if possible, ensure a flood kit is available to staff and avoid driving vehicles through floodwater.

3. Winter clothing

winter work clothing tipsThermal clothing is essential during very cold weather, it provides insulation, temperature regulation and is thin enough to be worn underneath work clothing, it also absorbs perspiration helping to prevent chills. Ensure yourself and colleagues wear the correct PPE (Personal Protective Clothing), non-regulation gloves or items such as scarves can be hazardous on a construction site so ensure that staff are vigilant about wearing approved PPE.During wet weather, waterproof breathable clothing should be worn, a waterproof rating of 5-10,000 should be adequate for all weather conditions.

Snow overshoes should be worn when clearing snow and if it is likely that you are going to get wet then a spare set of clothing is advisable.To prevent hypothermia, the correct clothing must be worn. If the body drops below 35°C this is when the body becomes hypothermic, as construction workers often spend a lot of time outdoors it is essential that the correct safety procedures are adhered in adverse temperatures.

4. Machinery, equipment and lighting


All machinery should be checked daily and any deficiencies logged. Checks such as routine services, anti-freeze and battery checks, and risk assessments will often need to be carried out more frequently during winter months. Some vehicles may require winter tyres and/or snow chains.The winter months lend themselves to reduced lighting therefore it is essential to check lights on all machinery and vehicles and also that there is suitable illumination for site works.

5. Winter driving

 winter driving tipsFor tips on how to drive safely during winter conditions see the AA’s winter motoring The following should be checked frequently on plant vehicles and domestic vehicles during winter weather.

  • Screen wash – to prevent freezing
  • Heated windscreens/demisters – check function
  • Battery – turn of non-essential electrical equipment
  • Lights – test all lights and ensure mirrors and lenses are clean
  • Tyres – check tyre depths and fit winter tyres when necessary

Carry a winter-kit in the car with essential items such as blankets, water bottles, shovel, ice-scraper, First-Aid kit, dried snacks and spare batteries for mobile phones. Winter kits can also be purchased pre-packed from garages. Remember to set your alarm ten minutes early to allow for defrosting your vehicle so that driving visibility is not impaired.

As well as being fully equipped for the winter weather, it would be wise to be well organised with any essential commutes you need to do. Monitor traffic updates to give yourself chance to bypass any roads that have been flagged as hazardous. Keep yourself sane and your superiors happy by being proactive with travelling; start your journey earlier to give congestion the slip , this could save you from having to leave the comfort of your car to get the snow shovel out…

6. Materials

Certain materials, such as concrete, will behave differently in very cold conditions. It is important to plan around these issues wherever possible to mitigate risks to safety and to ensure any delay to project delivery is minimised. Some materials’ strength and durability is compromised by very cold weather therefore it is important to take this into consideration.

Keep an eye on the Met Office’s Get ready for winter section and the latest weather warnings. The HSE also has useful guidance on how to prepare for icy conditions and winter weather.

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