Safety is of utmost importance on your construction site. However, even if you implement a robust safety program, Mother Nature may have other ideas. All the personal protective equipment and hazard reporting won’t do much to stop a storm. What precautions can you take against severe weather? How can you ensure that your equipment, structures, and most importantly, your people are safe if the weather turns bad?
As with all aspects of construction site safety, thorough planning helps mitigate disaster. While you cannot control the weather, you can control your site’s protection time measures — and how your staff responds to dangerous conditions. Read on to learn what to include in your safety plan and what to do when a weather advisory comes down.
The Risks of Severe Weather for Construction Sites
Severe weather is defined as any precipitation, winds, temperatures, or combination thereof that is far outside the norm. This includes:
- High winds (sustained wind speed of at least 30mph)
- Freezing rain and icing conditions
- Snow or hail
- Heatwaves (at least 3 consecutive days with temperatures above 90°F)
- Excessive heat (heat index above 105°F)
Storms or any weather situation with high winds can interfere with any aerial equipment, including cranes and hoists. Improperly secured scaffolding and suspended workstations are susceptible to detachment. Any building that has not yet been bolstered or that’s in delicate shape (e.g., during a renovation) may also suffer wind damage.
High winds can also knock over any volatile chemicals on the construction site. Spilled gasoline, varnish, paint, and other flammable liquids increase the risk of slips, explosions, and fires. Windy conditions may also cause heavy tools or gear to fall. As one of the top safety hazards on a construction site is falling objects, wind is a major risk factor.
The electrical effects of thunderstorms are particularly dangerous for construction sites. Any structure extending above ground level can attract lightning. Both metal and water easily conduct electricity. A lightning strike can send a shock of up to 1 billion volts that will travel through the conductor until it reaches an exit point. This means that the tallest points of your site are the most vulnerable and could transmit the charge to nearby equipment or people.
Ice and Hail
When it rains during freezing temperatures, ice will form on the ground, as well as scaffolding and other support structures. This presents a major slipping risk for both site workers and passersby. Ice can also impair the movement of heavy machinery and damage sensitive equipment.
Freezing rain is particularly dangerous weather because it typically forms ice as soon as it hits the ground, creating icy conditions before there’s time to react.
In particularly cold conditions, sleet may come down with rain. Sleet and its warm-season counterpart, hail, can cause injury. Hail is larger and more dangerous, but both are painful and injurious if they strike you. They can also pile onto delicate structures, causing undue weight that leads to damage.
And of course, any snowy or icy weather raises the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
On the flip side, high temperatures are a major risk factor for hyperthermia (aka heatstroke) and dehydration. Extremely hot weather is a common hazard for workers who do not have adequate protection from sun and heat. When people get chronically overheated, they are more susceptible to cardiovascular events (e.g. heart attacks and strokes). Excessive sun exposure causes sun poisoning, which can lead to neurological symptoms.
High heat can also damage equipment, whether due to soft materials that melt in high temperatures or electricity spikes caused by excessive demand. Some electrical devices may overheat and catch fire.
In sum, both extremely cold and extremely hot weather carry dozens of risks for your site, its structures and equipment, and of course, your workers. Many of these effects exacerbate other hazards as well. For example, icy surfaces make slips and falls more likely, potentially causing collisions or entrapment.
Severe weather can significantly increase your site’s risk of personal injury and damage to both equipment and buildings. Also, per the NYC Building Department, construction sites may be issued stop-work orders or violations if you have not secured your site. If this happens, contact a safety inspecting and expediting firm such as Menotti Enterprise to help you get back on track.
So, how can you protect your site from these hazards?
How to Protect Your Site in Case of a Weather Advisory?
Prevention is crucial to protecting your site from weather hazards. When in doubt, assume that any severe weather could topple, freeze, melt, or otherwise damage any part of your site.
What to Do in Windy Weather?
In high-wind conditions, safeguard your site by:
- Tying down and covering debris and loose material, including sheet materials that may fly away. If this is not possible, erect windblocks to prevent debris from spreading.
- Stowing tools, chemical containers, fuses, etc. in a closed box (that’s also tied down)
- Tying off scaffolding, rigging, netting, fencing, and other top-heavy or wind-catching structures
- Using wind-resistant barriers to protect vulnerable structures and equipment
- Anchor down freestanding structures such as portable toilets and dumpsters
When wind speeds exceed 30mph, immediately cease any crane or hoist operations and the use of hazardous chemicals. All workers should seek shelter.
What to Do in Icy or Snowy Weather
It is of prime importance to protect any electrical devices from snow and rain. Water can not only damage the sensitive equipment but also create a shock hazard.
If there is a freezing rain advisory, you should also cover any surfaces that you don’t want to become icy. This may be quicker than putting down salt — which can also damage certain masonry. In extremely cold weather (less than 25°F, salting won’t help because it only lowers the freezing point. If ice has already begun to form, de-icing compounds won’t work as effectively.
Recovering the site from snow or ice is also hazardous. Ice presents a high slipping risk. Any attempts to de-ice frozen surfaces must be taken with utmost care. Proper footwear, work gloves, and hard hats are essential.
Snow shoveling carries a high risk of strain injuries and falls: snow weighs up to 57 pounds per square foot — and it tends to be very hard and sharp as well. When possible, use professional snow-removal equipment to clear your site.
Under no circumstances should employees continue to work in extremely cold weather. Types of “cold stress,” including hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot can all set in more quickly than you might imagine. Even if workers don’t develop these conditions, they’re susceptible to exhaustion, which carries its own set of risks. All these risks worsen when wind speed rises in addition to low temperatures.
If projects must proceed in cold weather, workers must receive regular breaks in a warm location. The lower the temperature and higher the wind speed, the more frequent the breaks should be. Be sure to keep these warm-up shelters safe as well: always use devices such as space heaters according to their specifications.
What to do in Thunderstorms?
To protect equipment and structures from lightning strikes and excessive rain:
- Install adequate drainage on-site to prevent pooling water
- Install lightning protection systems to capture and contain any strikes
- Install UL-listed surge arrestors on all electrical panels and equipment
- Ensure there is a lightning-safe shelter on-site for all workers
- When a storm advisory comes in, immediately power down and vacate electrical devices and heavy machinery.
As soon as thunder rumbles, take it as a sign that lightning could strike. All workers should immediately seek shelter and remove any metal objects from their person. All tall structures must be vacated — and lowered, if possible. Consider moving sensitive equipment into a garage or other shelter before the storm strikes.
What to do in Hot Weather?
Hot weather is typically associated with drought, electrical surges, and accidental combustion. To avoid these issues:
- Store flammable materials in a secure, shaded location.
- Avoid overworking devices such as air conditioners.
- Install surge protectors on all equipment.
- Watch out for combustible materials and debris that may ignite more easily in hot, dry weather. There should not be any smoking on-site or even close by, and any devices that produce a spark or fire should only be used with extreme caution.
By far, the greatest concern in severely hot weather is for your workers. Make sure that everyone has access to cool shade, hydration, and first aid in case of heat exhaustion.
As you see, there are many methods and requirements for safeguarding your construction — in all types of weather. For a customized site assessment and specialized guidance, reach out to Menotti Enterprise so you can be as prepared as possible.
Creating Your Weather Safety Plan
All the procedures and preventative measures mentioned above should be thoroughly documented in your safety plan. Ensure that all workers know what to do when a weather advisory comes in. (And make certain that everyone will receive those communications!)
You should also monitor both site progress and weather conditions daily. Make this part of your routine so you can respond quickly to inclement weather. Set thresholds for hazardous conditions. For example, it may be helpful to monitor wind speed onsite. Watch out for the accumulation of snow on top of structures or water pooling around the site. If conditions exceed the threshold, the protocol to safely mitigate the hazard kicks in.
Your incident response protocols should include weather events. Set clear procedures for powering down devices, covering equipment and materials, stowing tools and chemicals, seeking shelter, and so on. All leads and supervisors should know when to cease work and how to safely disengage from the task.
You’ll also need a way to immediately address any worker health issues. Ensure that your employees know the signs of heatstroke, hypothermia, and other weather-related conditions in both themselves and others. Quick response is crucial in any of these illnesses. Also, keep an eye on the weather report so you can adjust your break schedule and staffing accordingly.
Regular maintenance is crucial to successfully implementing your weather safety plan. This includes insulating water pipes, inspecting heat-producing devices, and pre-treating walkways before the risk of ice and snow. In hot weather, conduct regular fire watches, maintain all air conditioning devices and protect equipment against surges.
If you need help coordinating all these protocols and procedures, reach out to Menotti Enterprise for expert risk mitigation. As a safety consulting firm, we can help you make sure all the right preventative measures are both in place and in alignment with your site’s needs.
Severe weather poses multiple risks to your construction site’s safety and integrity. It can wreak havoc on your equipment, put your site into non-compliance, delay project progress, and worst of all, harm your valuable workers. To keep everything safe even in unpredictable weather, you need a robust weather safety plan. This must encompass weather advisory response procedures, equipment safeguards, and health protection for your employees.
For end-to-end guidance in protecting your construction site against severe weather, contact Menotti Enterprise. We’ll conduct a site assessment to identify hazards, help you develop safety protocols, and ensure that your entire staff is fully trained to respond in case Mother Nature strikes.