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How Does The Weather Affect Construction Site Safety?
Along with all of the other health and safety risks on a construction or demolition site, the weather can play a significant role in increasing the chances of an accident or incident occurring. The most obvious weather conditions which pose a danger are:
- Strong Winds
- Heavy Rain
One of the main dangers from strong winds will be to people and loose material which is at a height, as it is likely to be more exposed and therefore more susceptible to high winds. Cranes and towers are particularly at risk. People working at height can be blown to the side, increasing the chances of them falling if there is insufficient side protection or harnesses to stop them from falling. If the wind is strong, there can be a risk of materials such as roof tiles and fast-moving debris striking a person. Also, the wind can whip up dust which can damage or irritate eyes, as well as aggravating conditions such as asthma.
Strong winds can also make it difficult to hear properly, so much so that workers may be oblivious to approaching vehicles if they cannot hear them coming.
Extremes of temperature can directly or indirectly increase the probability of an accident. Work taking place in extreme cold runs the risk of poor visibility through frozen up windscreens, as well as creating slip hazards from ice.
In hot temperatures, workers may suffer from conditions such as dehydration and sunstroke which can affect their judgement and reaction times, and is particularly perilous when driving a heavy vehicle around or operating machinery. They may also give in to temptation to cool down by not wearing protective equipment such as hard hats or high-visibility jackets, which increases the odds of them being injured or killed by a moving object or falling item.
Along with causing issues for people, high temperatures or the intense glare of the sun can cause overheating and fire risks to machinery and flammable materials on site. This makes the safe storage of hazardous substances all the more essential for preventing accidents.
Extreme temperatures can also cause machinery to not operate correctly, or sometimes even break down completely. Not only will this cost time and money, but it can also be extremely dangerous if the temperature were to damage or cause a failsafe feature not to function whilst in use. Rubber seals are one such component that are particularly vulnerable to cold weather as they become hard and do not expand and contract as they are supposed to.
The abundance of metal on a construction site means that the risk of lightning is very real, particularly for objects that are tall and higher up such as cranes and scaffolding. Acting as conductors, there is a chance they could be struck by lightning, causing electrocution, fires, or explosions as a result.
Although not always, the presence of lightning in the area is usually accompanied by some of the other potentially dangerous weather conditions mentioned in this article such as heavy rain and strong winds.
Apart from being unpleasant to work in, the presence of heavy or torrential rain will reduce visibility for the drivers of vehicles, and will turn the ground into mud which poses its own risks to the health and safety of site workers.
In some countries, rain can be so torrential that flash floods can occur with very little warning. Not only can this put equipment at risk, but fast moving deep water also poses a danger to life. An industry that is particularly at risk in this regard is mining, as the deep pits and shafts can quickly become overwhelmed.
Fog can be particularly dangerous for the workers on a construction site as it greatly reduces the visibility of everyone. The drivers of vehicles will not be able to see very far ahead, meaning that they may not be able to react in time if a person or object is in the roadway. The driver may even drive off the road if they cannot see where the edge is, increasing the chances of them colliding with something or driving over the edge of a steep drop. Along with the visibility issues for the drivers, workers on the ground will also find it difficult to see approaching vehicles and get out of the way in time.
The unpredictability and power of the weather can create unforeseen problems and delays. Even with the most comprehensive project management and all of the health and safety courses and training in the world, there are still risks of injuries and accidents occurring, which will be greatly increased with the presence of one or more of the weather conditions listed above.
The weather can change dramatically quickly. What started as a nice calm day can turn into one where the weather poses a very real threat to the health and safety of everybody working on the construction site.
Not only do construction site managers and supervisors need to keep a close watch on changeable weather conditions at all times, but there also needs to be in place suitable plans and proactive safety measures to keep people safe, rather than solely relying on the site manager spotting a change in the weather and warning everybody. For instance, this can include measures such as always storing harmful substances away when not in use rather than leaving them lying around whatever the weather, ensuring that all loose objects and material are securely fastened down when not in use, and ensuring suitable drainage channels are dug should heavy rain fall.
Just as in other industries and places of work, conducting thorough risks assessments and taking a proactive approach to dealing with potential problems before they occur is one of the most important and effective methods of preventing harm befalling people at work. Whilst it is true that weather events are notoriously unpredictable by their very nature, having suitable measures in place before it hits can drastically lessen the impact they can have on people’s health, safety and well-being.