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SUMO’s Ultimate Cold Weather Guide...

Updated: Jan 31

Despite the cold temperatures during the winter months, the UK construction industry always continues full steam ahead. With the growing need for infrastructure, site workers must brave the elements to maintain construction efforts. However, both workers and employers must prepare for the wintry months to not only support the smooth running of these projects, but to also protect the health and safety of all involved.

At SUMO, our site staff work all year round, collecting a wide range of survey data across the UK. So, we’ve put together the following list of 11 tips for the winter months.

1. Appropriate insulation

SUMO’s Ultimate Cold Weather Guide

It goes without saying that during the colder seasons, keeping warm and wearing the correct clothing is essential. The key is finding a balance of wearing enough layers to stay warm, whilst still being able to maintain a good range of mobility to perform your work. Hats, gloves, thick socks, face covers, earmuffs, and hardhat liners are all advised as a form of insulation against the elements. Plus, wicking thermals for inner layers (to keep moisture away from your body) and a breathable waterproof outer layer (to prevent moisture from getting into clothing) are an excellent method of controlling moisture within apparel. By layering your clothing as much as possible, the gaps of air between clothing provide extra insulation as you warm them with your body heat.

2. Correct hydration

Unlike the warm summer seasons where heat and sweating indicate that a person must consume fluids, the colder months can catch many construction professionals off-guard with unexpected dehydration. We recommend keeping a sports bottle close by with hydrating fluids. What’s more, there are a variety of environmentally friendly flask options available. It is also recommended that onsite staff avoid caffeine and soda pop, as these are dehydrating. Instead opting for alternatives such as sports drinks, sugar water or soup (which has the added benefit of being warming).

3. Pocket/ hand warmers

Quick to activate and heat up, put a few warmers into your outer/ inner pockets to stay nice and warm whilst on-site, or travelling to and from.

4. Cold weather training

Noticing the symptoms of severe weather illness and injury can be essential during the cold British weather. There are a range of training options available. Both on and off-line, many of which can be tailored to specific job roles.

5. Watch out for ice

Watch out for ice

Slips and falls are some of the most common workplace accidents. It goes without saying, that where ice is involved, the range of safety risks are even more pronounced. From slipping while on-site, to skidding during journeys to and from a site (by car or walking), it is crucial to be prepared. In fact, making plans BEFORE freezing temperatures arrive, is always advised. You can use local or national weather services such as the MET office forecast to help.

A few simple tips to help prevent harm from ice:

  • Risk assessment - It goes without saying that if a new risk such as ice appears within your workspace, you should undertake an appropriate risk assessment.

  • De-icing - Use grit or salt on paths and gangways to prevent the formation of ice. It is much better if ice is prevented from forming initially, rather than having to remove it. We also suggest identifying areas of high use by pedestrians, such as entranceways and car parks.

  • Footwear - while normal health and safety guidelines such as steel-toe-caps will still apply, it is essential also to consider your shoe tread. Make sure to wear rubber-soled boots and keep an eye on whether there is adequate tread throughout the season.

6. Frequent breaks

Frequent breaks

Whilst working in cold temperature, workers expend more energy to complete the same tasks. As a worker, you should aim to take more frequent breaks, in a heated break area wherever possible.

Workers should use these breaks to rest, warm-up, and change out of any wet clothing. Plus, this is an excellent opportunity to check for signs of cold-weather illness such as fatigue, frostbite or hypothermia. Referring to Tip number 2, it is also a good time to re-hydrate with water or even mug-soups for extra warmth.

7. Open the lines of communication

During the cold months, it is important to keep the lines of communication open between both management and staff. This includes site workers and office teams as well as the site workers themselves.

Developing a communication strategy before the winter season can help. This can ensure your systems and procedures work properly to resolve any potential communication issues.

8. Assess the risks of using equipment

Appropriate risk assessments should be carried out before using equipment such as cranes, diggers or manual tools. This may include consideration for site conditions as well as the running of the machinery itself. This is because electrical wires and hoses can become brittle in cold temperatures. It is essential to allow those to heat up properly to avoid damage and potential harm to workers.

Other equipment checks may include:

  • Fluids, such as engine and hydraulic oils

  • Ensuring heaters in cabs are working

  • Ensuring ice or snow from windshields is removed

  • Extra precautions may also be needed when working with air compressors and pneumatic tools

9. Spare change of clothes

Spare change of clothes

It’s sensible to have spare clothes, socks, gloves, hats and hard hat liners, so you can change out of them should they get wet. Where possible and safe to do so, try keeping your spares inside warm break areas or buildings. This way they are kept warm for you, if you need to wear them. If you want to avoid needing to change into your spares, you should layer your clothing with a base layer of clothing. This will wick away moisture and a decent waterproof outer layer.

10. Prep your vehicle for cold weather

RAC suggests using the acronym FORCES

Many workers will travel to site or to the office in cars or company vans. It is important to prepare these for the harsh conditions. The RAC suggests using the acronym FORCES to carry out DIY checks in preparations for cold weather.

They suggest following these steps for preparing your vehicle:

  • Make sure you have plenty of fuel in your tank for your journey.

  • Check the oil level on every vehicle

  • You'll need to inspect your tyres and your wiper blades before you set off

  • Check your car’s coolant level. The last thing you need is a frozen engine or for your vehicle to overheat.

  • Have a look at your lights – they are essential for you to see and be seen.

  • Check your screen wash level and top up with a quality screen wash additive or pre-mix. This is effective down to at least -15 degrees Celsius.

We also think it's a good idea to pack yourself a ‘cold weather emergency kit’ in case you find yourself broken down for a lengthy period. Your kit could contain a couple of hand warmers, spare warm clothing, non-perishable snacks like protein bars, water, and a battery power-pack for your mobile phone.

11. Drive safely

Drive safely

Be cautious when driving to and from your place of work in wintry conditions. Not only is there a significant chance of snow and ice, but the visibility can often be reduced. Ease off the accelerator for more control of the vehicle. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. Also leave ample space between yourself and other vehicles to avoid collisions.

And remember, routes favouring major roads are more likely to be clear and gritted.

So, stay safe above ground during the winter months with our Ultimate Cold Weather Guide. Contact us with your survey requirements to stay safe below the ground!

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