03-12-2019

The winter months are some of the worst to work in with the dark mornings and long dark evenings, but spare a thought for those who have to spend their whole working day or night working outside. The pouring rain, freezing temperatures and howling winds are bad enough when you’re walking or driving to work; but for site and traffic management operatives these are conditions where they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities come what may.

It isn’t just the poor weather conditions that can make life difficult for these operatives either, as the longer and darker nights represent a wealth of new challenges that site managers in particular aren’t faced with in the summer. With less light and often poor weather conditions there are fewer people around to deter potential thieves which makes building sites a real target, and site security becomes a real priority.

Throughout this guide we’re going to focus on a number of the challenges faced by site and traffic management operatives throughout the winter months, and how employers can go about making not just the workplace – but the operatives themselves – as safe as possible as they go about their daily duties.

The dangers of working outside in winter

Exposure to the poor weather conditions in winter can have an impact on your health and safety as well as your ability to actually go about doing your job. While certain jobs will need to be put on hold because they’re impossible to complete due to frozen or saturated ground, other outdoor duties can still go ahead until temperatures reach a point where employers deem it unsafe.

Among the many dangers of working outside in winter are:

  • Cold/freezing temperatures. There is a minimum working temperature of 16 degrees in the UK, or 13 degrees if it is categorised as strenuous work, but there is no official minimum working temperature outdoors. This means that employees are often working outside in freezing conditions, striving to complete their duties that provide buildings for everyone else to live or work in; with the tough conditions brought about by the seasons and elements going unnoticed. These conditions can take their toll on a person’s health as well as their safety with sudden drops in temperature having an impact on people’s joints and breathing. Not only that, when ‘cold stress’ kicks in it can affect a person’s alertness and judgment meaning operating heavy site machinery can become incredibly dangerous.
  • Decreased visibility and poor lighting. Even before the clocks change there is an obvious drop in the amount of natural light when working outdoors, and that drops even further when the clocks go back and we lose an extra hour at each end of the day. Poor or inadequate lighting on building sites and decreased visibility out on the roads put traffic management operatives at risk when laying out cones and implementing road closures – especially on roads without street lighting – and site workers face similar challenges when attempting to use tools or machinery in poorly lit areas.

What are the solutions?

There are a number of things that companies and employees can do to combat the cold working conditions, including:

  • PPE. Personal protective equipment is vitally important in the winter to help keep outdoor workers warm and visible. Hi-vis jackets can help to counter both the poor visibility and freezing temperatures, while other forms of PPE like gloves and safety boots will help to keep warm while also meeting essential PPE regulations. These are a set of requirements laid out in the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (1992) which make it a legal requirement for employers to provide the kind of protective clothing and equipment that protects employees against health or safety risks including the use of machinery, working conditions and the elements.
  • Layers. In additional to meeting health and safety requirements and PPE regulations, layered clothing can also make a big difference to your safety, health and body temperature. If you can dress for the conditions you can always adapt to the environment as it changes, removing layers if you must. Start out with a base layer, followed by a comfortable inner or middle layer and finish with a waterproof outer layer to ensure that the wet weather doesn’t get through to the skin.
  • Heating equipment. While you can’t do much about the elements, access to fuel heaters or radiant heaters in breakout rooms and on-site canteens can provide important respite for outdoor workers. Another solution might be to install a series of barriers on site fencing that can prevent the wind and rain from sweeping through the site, reducing some of the chill factor.
  • Water pumps. Rather than splashing around in puddles and flooded sites, our range of water pumps including sweeper pumps and diaphragm pumps can help to clear water from the location to allow you to work safely. The sweeper pump, or ‘puddle sucker’ as it is also known, will help to clear site water to a depth of 1mm, while the more heavy duty diaphragm, submersible pump or the centrifugal clear water pump will help to remove deeper water that would otherwise leave the site submerged and work on hold.

What is PPE and why is it important?

Personal protective equipment, or PPE for short, is the name given to clothing and equipment designed to keep workers safe while minimising the risk of injury or illness at work. A legal requirement, PPE equipment can be anything from respiratory equipment like face masks, safety helmets and ear defenders to hi-vis clothing, work boots and thermal clothing like gloves, fleeces and helmet warmers. This PPE equipment should always be provided (free of charge) by the employer, and it is then the responsibility of the worker to look after it, to wear it and to store it safely when not in use.

Unless working on a site, employees should never take PPE away from the premises and it should always be kept in top condition to ensure that it works as it should when the time comes.

Whenever you work outdoors PPE becomes vitally important. The poor weather and light in winter puts site workers and traffic management operatives in increased danger when workers are using machinery, backing up a lorry or surveying the site; or when traffic management operatives are putting out cones, traffic lights and closure signs on the road, but PPE like hi-vis jackets and safety helmets can reduce the risk of serious injury occurring.

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