Winter Construction Site Work and the Risk

With winter fast approaching some of us look out of our office (or home office) windows and dream of spending a little more time outdoors, knowing that the only exercise we will get throughout the day will consist in getting up to put the kettle on. Meanwhile millions of workers wrap up and prepare to face the elements.

Winter is a harsh time of year for outdoor workers, adding an extra level of discomfort and hazards to a number of work environments. 

Construction sites are unsurprisingly one of the most dangerous environments to work in. HSE government statistics* for 2021 disclose that out of 142 work related fatalities in the 2020/2021 period, 39 occurred in the construction industry.

Construction site hazards are copious, they include:

  • Working at height
  • Working with heavy machinery
  • Working with moving objects
  • Handling heavy objects
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Working with electricity
  • Working with hazardous materials
  • Working in noisy environments

It’s probably equally unsurprising to learn that most workplace accidents on construction sites occur during the winter months. In winter construction sites offer the harshest conditions for workers: reduced hours of daylight mean working with impaired visibility and adverse weather conditions increases the risk of slips and falls as well as machine operator mistakes.

Risks of working in winter with poor heating and lighting

Although construction work on building sites is the most hazardous due to constant exposure to the elements, the conditions endured by workers on refurbishment projects can be just as harsh. These projects often mix indoor and outdoor work and are carried out in buildings where there is no heating (or the heating isn’t running). The risks of falling from height or being struck by falling objects are also equally present.

Workers who are exposed to the cold for prolonged periods are at the risk of developing “cold stress” and this may result in a number of conditions:

  • Hypothermia: This occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature and begins to lose heat faster than it can replace it. Symptoms include:  Confusion, shivering, difficulty speaking, sleepiness and stiff muscles.
  • Chilblains: These are the result of blood vessels shutting down due to exposure to cold or humidity. Chilblains typically lead to skin lesions such as blistering, discolouration and inflammation. In extreme cases they can lead to bone fractures.
  • Frostbite: This is an abrasion or abrasions caused by the skin coming into direct contact with very cold materials.  Symptoms include skin irritation, numbness, discolouration and blistering. 
  • Trench foot: A condition that takes its name from the injuries typically suffered by soldiers in the trenches during WWI, this occurs when skin is exposed to cold and wet environments over prolonged periods. In extreme cases, it can lead to gangrene.

There is no specific law governing work in cold temperatures

The HSE guidelines for recommended lower temperature limit state that workers should not work in environments with temperatures below 13°C, however it is not illegal to work in temperatures lower than this and HSE does not have a specific protocol for work in these conditions.

HSE issues the following guidelines* for working in cold environments:

  • Ensure the personal protective equipment issued is appropriate
  • Provide mobile facilities for warming up, and encourage the drinking of warm fluids such as soup or hot drinks
  • Introduce more frequent rest breaks
  • Consider delaying the work – can it be undertaken at warmer times of the year without compromising on safety?
  • Educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of cold stress

Further information on working in cold temperatures can be found on their website.**

What products are available for working in winter weather?

  1. Personal Protective Equipment

Companies are responsible for providing the correct PPE for their workers. Cold weather PPE can include: hard hat liners and/or hoods, heavy duty work boots, gloves, several layers of clothing that provide insulation and assist with temperature regulation, protective eyewear that deflects glare for working in the snow and even anti-exposure work suits.

2.      Anti-Slip Staging

One of the biggest hazards on building sites is the risk of slips and falls, with falls from height constituting the leading cause of workplace fatalities in the UK.

Anti-slip staging is designed to provide a safe, even non-slip surface underfoot to add comfort and reduce accidents.

3. Construction Site Heating

There are a number of heating options that adapt to any site. Gas heaters such as space heaters are typically used in warehouses and for drying out buildings. Marquee heaters, patio heaters and blow heater can all be considered depending on the space you need to heat, as each has a slightly different use. Gas heaters are a popular option for work in exposed areas.

Electric heaters are typically used in sheltered areas and fan assisted units are often used for drying out buildings. Infra-red heaters are also a popular form of site heating used for this purpose in places where a low noise option is preferred.

4. Construction Site Lighting

Flood lighting comes in an array of designs, be it with one or many heads and a variety of different mount options, adapting to your site’s requirements.

Another common form of site lighting used on construction projects is festoons. Festoons are strings of bulbs that provide a row of light and are often used for marking work area boundaries in the dark.

Other lighting options include smaller units like skip lights and torches. 

5. Power supply

Any lighting rigs or heaters used on a construction site will require a power supply. This will usually include diesel generators and cabling as well as distribution boards, transformers and junction boxes.

Plant and tool hire companies can provide assistance with on-site power supplies.

The winter construction site is a harsh environment, but correctly preparing your site for the cold weather and providing workers with the right PPE will improve safety and productivity on your project. Ultimately the key to working in the winter is good communication: paying attention to workers’ requirements and responding effectively to improve their comfort and reduce the risk of cold stress.

Get In Touch

If you’d like more information on equipping your site or project for better comfort and efficiency this winter, get in touch with PSM today. 

PSM stocks a range of site heating and lighting options as well as generators and safety equipment. Our sales advisers are always happy to resolve any queries you may have and will gladly inform you on our product range. Contact PSM on 02088 505 658 today!