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Inclement weather can sometimes be unavoidable in an outdoor work area. In some regions, heavy rain and wet conditions may be expected on a regular basis, but when that wet weather occurs, the potential hazards on your construction site increase exponentially. For this reason, occupational health and safety must be considered when planning work in the rainy season. Though most of these factors just require a little common sense, such as checking the weather forecast, staying within safety laws and taking care to prevent short circuit situations from electrical components and power lines, others may be less intuitive to your outdoor workers. Keep reading to learn more about how to keep your crew safe in rainy conditions.
To start, you’ll want to take additional precautions if you must work in the rain. Of course, if possible, you should try to reschedule the work for a drier day, but that may not be an option on some projects, such as fast-track projects or projects where other delays have held the entire project up. If you do have to work on a wet job site, look for hand and power tools that have a non-slip grip, check the windchill on your weather forecast and consider making a shift forklift inspection a requirement on rainy days even if you would otherwise make it a weekly task, so that you can ensure that your equipment is in proper operating equipment. Though horsing around should never be the norm on a job site, make sure to especially discourage it during wet conditions to prevent accidents. Slippery surfaces greatly increases risk of injury, so make sure everyone is aware of their surroundings and moving cautiously.
Though everybody on your job site will need rain gear to work in the wet weather, not everyone on your crew will need the same level of protective clothing in rainy weather. As an example, someone working around heavy equipment may specifically need a fitted pant leg to avoid being caught up in the machinery, while someone working on a steel frame or in deep mud may need deep tread boots to ensure that they have solid traction on their work surface, and a foreman may just require a poncho or rain jacket for protection from the elements while keeping an eye on everything on the job site. For that reason, everyone on the job site should have protective clothing that is appropriate for their task, including reflective vests to improve job site visibility and make it easier to keep track of everyone.
Though we tend to think of hypothermia as something that happens when the mercury dips below freezing, the fact is that it can happen on days with temperatures in the 50s or 60s if wet conditions and wind chill are sapping the heat from your workers. Under wet or cold conditions, beginning of shift inspections should include weather checks and ensuring that your crew has insulated rain gear that will keep them warm. Making body temperature checks more frequent and providing warming areas can also help reduce the risk of cold stress. If someone starts to slur their speech, gets blue fingers or lips, starts shivering heavily or otherwise complains of being cold, get them under cover and provide heat, whether it’s through a job site heater, blankets, or instant heat packs.
It’s no secret that in rainy weather, your hands and feet will get cold faster than the rest of your body, because they’re at the extremes of blood flow. As they get cold, your hands will get clumsy, making it very easy to slip and cause an accident, especially when working with power tools. This is among the reasons why proper hand protection is vital to your crew’s safety and health when working in wet weather. Make sure everyone has anti-slip grip gloves that provide protection from the cold to ensure the best safety on the job site. If necessary, layer grip gloves over waterproof gloves, such as neoprene gloves, to keep hands warmer and drier with a secure grip to help reduce the risk of accidents, provided that the layering doesn’t make grip worse.
Slip and fall accidents are among construction’s Fatal Four, accounting for a significant number of serious injuries and 36.5% of construction site deaths. This is among the reasons why it’s so important to keep an eye on the weather condition at your job site, especially if high winds or heavy rain suddenly become an issue. For this reason, your crew should always be in appropriate fall protection equipment when working off the ground. This can include appropriate rails, safety harnesses, safety nets and similar equipment to keep your workers safe. Make sure that your crew has training on how to use this equipment safely, how to use it in an emergency and keep an eye that it’s not being ignored or abused on the job site. Regular inspections of safety equipment are vital to your workers’ occupational health and safety.
If you’re like many construction professionals, electrical hazards are at the front of your mind on the job site, but have you considered all the sources? Is that electric vehicle or equipment rated for outdoor use? Is that electrical wiring or extension cord properly grounded by a licensed electrician? What about the electric motor on your winch? Are you switching from a possibly dangerous power tool in favor of hand tools? In addition to checking for electrical hazards, consider situations that can increase the danger of slip and fall accidents or accidents due to losing grip on a piece of equipment, a control or a tool. Though some of these options may seem like a bit of a time sink, they’ll not take nearly as much time as an OSHA investigation would, along with a court case from your injured employee.
Not only does rain make things dangerous and slippery, but it can also cause problems with being able to see clearly on the job site. Poor visibility is increased by both lower light conditions from the clouds as well as the heaviness of the rain and humidity within equipment cabs. Of course you can and should add reflectors and Hi-Viz safety clothing to improve the visibility of workers on the job site, but improving how well your crew can see will also have a big impact. Add anti-fog spray to your kit for rainy days so that your crew can treat windshields, side windows, rear windows, and safety glasses. If a crew member uses prescription safety glasses with coatings, spray the inside of the lens only to protect the coating while still preventing some level of fogging. You may want to recommend to oncoming crew members that if they are getting prescription safety glasses, to get them without any coatings so that they can coat both sides of their safety glasses.
Road work in bad weather takes the inherent dangers of this type of construction and makes it significantly worse. Among the personal protective equipment your crew uses, include a reflective vest at a bare minimum, though for optimal safety, you’ll want to light up your road workers as much as possible using flashing lights, additional reflective protective equipment, safety green shirts and jackets, and similar personal protective equipment to make them stand out from the dreary, low visibility weather. Add more traffic signs, especially lit signs that are more likely to get the attention of passing motorists so that they’re aware of your crew on the road and can help to prevent an accident by improving awareness.
Proper training is an important part of your construction company’s safety on the job site, but having a thorough plan in place for emergencies is just as important. If any of your crew have medical training, even if it’s just first aid, CPR and AED, make sure they know that they’ll be a part of the response to treat injured coworkers, then make sure that they have the equipment and supplies that they need on site to treat any injuries that may take place. Make sure that the container for this response is prominently placed. Have someone specifically assigned to call 911 as soon as an accident happens, so that emergency help is on the way as quickly as possible. Consider sponsoring a few employees to undertake more advanced medical training program to be able to respond more quickly and effectively to accidents on your job site, improving the safety of your workers and lowering your liability.
By understanding the issues and dangers that can arise in rainy weather, you’re in a better position to respond quickly and appropriately during a construction site emergency. Take the time to go through possible scenarios, develop a response and order in any materials, supplies or equipment that you’ll need to ensure worker safety during bad weather, then communicate it to your workers so that they know how to respond in this type of situation. Why not take a few minutes to see what National Capital Industries has for safety and road work equipment so that you can go in with full knowledge of what’s available?