Working with Weather

A lot of jobs involve working outdoors - especially in the construction industry – and this can subject employees to a whole host of conditions and risks. If the weather takes a turn for the worse it can endanger workers, delay projects, and even undo your hard work! However, with the right preparation you can rest assured you’re doing your best to mitigate these risks and keep personnel safe.

When we usually think of dangerous weather in the UK it's strong winds or heavy rain, but you should also be prepared for snow, fog, or thunderstorms. The safest thing to do is always stop until it’s clear, but we know that’s often not an option, so we’ve put together some advice to help you avoid risks in the most common climates.

There are some measures you should follow on site before any work is carried out, no matter what the forecast, to make sure you are prepared in case of emergency.

  • Train your staff – ensure anyone engaging in outdoor work knows what the risks are, how to avoid them, and any early warning signs or monitoring equipment they should keep an eye on.
  • Equip employees - provide them with the right equipment for the job, making sure any kit is in good condition and employees know how to use it correctly. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Keep it clean – promoting good housekeeping and keeping site tidy can help reduce the number of hazards. If tools and materials are properly put away and fastened down, it can stop them being carried away in high winds or tripped over during evacuations.
  • Have an Emergency Action Plan (or EAP) – make sure that if dangerous weather is approaching you know how to communicate that to staff, who then know what measures to follow (an evacuation plan for example).
  • Warn others - use appropriate signage to notify people about potential risks both before and during works (e.g. uneven floor, people overhead).
  • Watch the weather – though the forecast should be checked when planning a project, you can’t foresee everything so it’s important to keep an eye on the daily outlook for more accurate predictions. Some sites even have their own monitoring tools or work in partnership with weather stations for regular updates.

Wind

High winds are especially dangerous when working at height, as gusts tend to be stronger the higher you go so loss of balance is a huge concern, but there are risks for those at ground level too. Falling trees, collapsing scaffolds, and loose objects being blown about are just some of the issues you could face on site if the wind really picks up, so here are a few things you can do to help.

Before

  • Avoid scheduling any work at height on days where high winds are forecast.
  • Make sure any scaffolding or partially built structures are braced and secured at all times to prevent them collapsing if gusts get too high. Using a product like scaffold tags can quickly communicate to others that it is inspected and safe.
  • Wind can catch sparks from fires or tools and carry them, so cordon off any areas where sparks might be generated with flame resistant sheeting.
  • Work over 1.5m should ALWAYS have fall protection in place regardless of the forecast. This usually includes guard rails, and harnesses connected to an anchor point.
  • Use appropriate banners on scaffolding and fencing – scaffold sheeting can reduce wind and rain penetration, whereas debris netting is tailored to catch things falling from scaffolding.

During

  • Never work on scaffolding, roofs, or other elevated platforms in strong winds. According to the Work at Height Regulations 2005, any working at height must be suspended in dangerous weather conditions.
  • Put on any additional PPE and ensure it’s fitted correctly. Hard hats should be secured so they protect you from loose debris and don’t blow off, and eye protection should be considered to keep dust out.
  • Be very cautious when handling large flat materials (like plywood, sheet metal, even banners) if you cannot avoid carrying them completely. These can be caught by the wind and act like a sail, endangering both the carrier and anyone struck by the material.
  • Don’t try and catch things blown away by the wind! It’s far too easy for the same gusts that caught them to catch you and knock you off balance, especially when working at height.

Rain

Though we’re used to rain here in the UK, it can still be hazardous for those working outdoors. Not only does it make the ground soft and slick - increasing the chance of slips and falls - but lowers visibility too. If rain is especially heavy or long lasting it can also cause flooding, which could lead to longer delays in works and building damage, plus rainstorms can bring on thunder and lightning. Even so, there are some measures that can help mitigate these risks.

Before

  • Provide warm, dry, indoor areas where workers can take breaks. Staff should always have a suitable rest area but working out in the rain for long periods of time can soak workers through and cause them to catch a chill, so they need a space to warm up and change into dry clothes.
  • Use appropriate banners on scaffolding and fencing – scaffold sheeting can help keep rain off workers while letting through light but can’t be applied at height, whereas mesh banners are more permeable but can be placed in more areas.
  • Put canopies over entry ways and/or entrance mats inside to stop water and mud being tracked in and making more areas a slip threat.

During

  • If lightning is present then avoid being on or near tall, isolated objects (like scaffolding or plant) as these are the most likely to be struck. Even if you aren’t hit, being in contact with an object that is can cause you to be electrocuted or knocked away by the force.
  • If water is being tracked indoors then take time to dry these areas, especially at entry points, or use wet floor signs to warn people that it’s slippy.
  • Allow drivers longer to complete journeys as less grip on the roads and decreased visibility are both concerns in the rain, so they should take extra time and care.
  • Put on any additional PPE required and make sure it’s fitted correctly. Rain can obscure people’s vision (especially those wearing glasses or eye protection) so all outdoor workers should be provided with Hi-Viz waterproof clothing to help them stay dry and visible.
  • If conditions become too intense you should move to an area that cannot be penetrated by rain or lightning. Ideally this will be indoors, but if that isn’t an option then a vehicle with the windows up is the next safest bet.
  • Do not attempt to drive through flooded roads. Even though water may look shallow this can be deceiving, and it only takes 30cm of moving water to float the average car.

Afterwards

There are a few steps you should take after any adverse weather on site, especially if work had to stop at any point, to ensure that work can start back up as safely as possible.

  • Wait! If you moved to a safe zone, then stay there for at least 30 mins after the danger has passed to ensure it’s not just a lull or the eye of the storm.
  • Amend targets and deadlines. If the weather was harsh, it’s likely to have slowed or even stopped work proceeding on site, so make sure to change your timeframes to compensate. Pushing workers to continue in dangerous conditions will just increase the risk of accidents.
  • Do a thorough sweep of the site to check for any damage caused by the weather. This should include making sure any structures are secure, any electric cables or equipment are inspected for faults, and any hazardous areas (e.g. flooded ground) are cordoned off with hazard tape.

 

We hope this information helps you stay safe! And remember, it’s important to always do a full and appropriate risk assessment before starting work to make sure you fully safeguard your site.

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