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15th December Journal Column


By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

We started the week with a yellow weather warning, flight cancellations and school closures, and with the snow and ice expected to stick around, I can’t help but think of those working on sites or outdoors.

Aside from the fact it’s freezing cold, sites can be very dangerous in the bad weather. In the winter, strong winds, cold temperatures, snow and rain have the potential to cause serious hazards for workers in the industry. The unpredictability of the British weather makes it hard to plan, but we’re pretty much guaranteed to have bad weather (it is the UK after all) so there are a few precautions that can be followed to ensure working on site is as safe as possible. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises:

  • Shielding any areas that could be worst hit by the weather.
  • Creating heated break areas where workers can warm up.
  • Scheduling outside work to be carried out in shorter durations, so workers don’t have to face the elements for long periods of time.
  • Wearing the correct gear that is fully insulated to retain body heat.
  • Checking the site for any new hazards that could have been caused by the bad weather.

As with anything, the most important factor to consider, especially in health and safety, is education. Educating employees on the importance of staying safe and how they can go about it, is the most successful way of keeping workers safe on site. Keeping up to date with weather reports when planning projects can also ensure workers don’t spend too long in extreme conditions.

Slips, trips and falls are the most common construction site accidents and although they can happen all year round, icy, wet or slippery surfaces increase the risk. Scaffolding and ladders get very slippery with frost and ice and a fall from a height could be life threatening especially when coupled with freezing temperatures. Also, prolonged exposure to the cold can cause workers to suffer from colds, bronchitis, asthma, painful joints and fatigue. In extreme cases, workers outside for long periods, without the right protection, could even suffer hypothermia, frostbite and chilblains.

In the UK, there is no legal minimum outdoor working temperature, so it is important that everyone understands the hazards associated with the cold weather. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and look out for others around you. You know your body best and although the job might take a little longer to get finished, the most important thing is the health and safety of the workforce. After all, nobody wants to be ill for Christmas, do they?

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

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