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Snow, Ice Provide Opportunities for Danger for Construction Workers

November 20, 2015
 / Safety / 

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While snow can signal the beginning of the holiday season and be a magical experience for some, winter precipitation can cause concerns for construction worker safety on job sites.

Employers must prevent illnesses, injuries, and fatalities due to winter weather by controlling hazards in workplaces under these conditions. That includes slippery surfaces or roads, dangers from strong winds, and protecting workers against environmental cold.

Read more about cold weather safety for construction workers here.

Falls, slips, and trips are the number one cause of fatal construction injuries, accounting for 349 deaths in 2014. But the danger of falling or slipping increases drastically when surfaces become wet from snow and ice.

Learn more about 2014 construction worker fatality data here.

Employers should clear snow and ice from any walking surfaces, and deicer should be spread as soon as possible after winter storms. When walking on snow or ice is unavoidable, workers should be trained to wear non-slip footwear with added insulation, such as water-resistant boots or rubber shoes. Workers should take shorter steps and walk at a slower pace in order react more quickly to changes in traction.

Falls can also happen when removing snow from elevated surfaces such as roofs. Workers should avoid working on snow-covered roofs or elevated heights if possible by using ladders, snow rakes, or drag lines instead. Be sure to protect against entrapment or suffocation from falling snowdrifts or piles in these cases.

But if workers must work at elevated heights, they should always utilize required fall protection and training, including safe usage of ladders and extreme caution near power lines. Workers should also ensure proper setup, inspection, and usage of aerial lifts to avoid collapses and tip-overs.

Snow removal even at ground level can cause injuries, as shoveling snow can be strenuous, with the potential to cause exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries, and heart attacks. Take frequent breaks in warm areas, warm up before shoveling, scoop small amounts of snow at a time, and push snow instead of lifting it whenever possible to avoid injury. To avoid back and other injuries, shovel snow by keeping the back straight, lifting with the legs, and not turning or twisting the body. Also be sure to avoid frostbite and hypothermia by dressing appropriately, taking frequent breaks, and staying dry.

Snow removal operations can also result in amputations, eye injuries, and more from the use of snow blowers and other equipment. Make sure all powered equipment is properly grounded, and when performing maintenance or cleaning, ensure that it is shut off and properly guarded. Any equipment used in wet conditions such as snow or ice should be maintained and inspected properly before each use and should be designed specifically for outdoor or wet conditions.

Never attempt to clear a jam in a snow blower by hand, as this can cause lacerations or amputations. Turn the snow blower off, wait for all moving parts to stop, and then use a long stick to clear wet snow or debris. All equipment should be refueled prior to starting, and never while an engine is running or still hot.

The risk of shock or electrocution from downed power lines or damaged extension cords is also high during cold weather. Workers should assume all downed power lines are energized and avoid any downed or damaged lines. Establish a safe distance from all power lines, and report any incidents immediately, as only properly trained electrical utility workers can handle damaged lines.

Snow is a major hazard in electrical situations as the moisture can reduce the insulation of protective equipment, upping workers’ chances for electrocution. Contact with downed power lines or objects that are in contact with downed lines should be avoided at all costs.

Severe winter storms that bring snow and ice can also result in downed trees, which must be removed urgently when they block public roads and damage power lines. Hazards include electrocution if a downed tree or broken limb is touching an energized power line; falls from heights; equipment injuries from chainsaws and wood chippers. Workers removing downed trees or limbs should use the proper personal protective equipment, including gloves; chaps; and foot, eye, fall, hearing, and head protection.

Proper use of work zone traffic controls is also essential during wet or snowy conditions, as drivers may skid or lose control of their vehicles more easily in snow and ice. Reaction and correction time is much slower in wet conditions. Workers should properly set up work zones identified by signs, cones, barrels, and barriers to protect workers, who should wear the proper high-visibility clothing at all times.

Drivers may skid or lose control of their vehicles more easily in snow and ice. Properly set up work zones with traffic controls identified by signs, cones, barrels, and barriers to protect workers. Wear high visibility vests at all times.

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