The weather outside is frightful, whether it’s January in Buffalo or July in Phoenix. Extreme weather conditions can be a major problem for construction workers, most of whom have to perform their tasks outdoors. During the summer, high temperatures and humidity can cause dehydration, heat stroke, cramping, exhaustion, and rashes. The need for workers to wear protective clothing, such as long denim pants and heavy boots, exacerbates the heat’s effects. Those parts of the body not covered up become vulnerable to sunburns and skin cancers resulting from exposure to the sun’s rays. Summer lightning storms can cause fatal injuries to workers. During the winter, low temperatures and high winds can combine to make conditions bitterly cold. This can lead to hypothermia and frostbite, in addition to a greater potential for slip and fall accidents due to the presence of ice and snow.
For these reasons, all contractors should make protection against extreme weather conditions part of their regular safety procedures. Some regulations from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration require this. For example, one regulation requires employers to provide personal protective equipment and special training to workers if they will work under conditions so severe that they qualify as environmental hazards. Among the required protective equipment is clothing to cover an employee’s eyes, head, face, arms and legs. Another regulation requires employers to provide equipment protecting employees from over-exposure to the sun.
Some steps contractors can take to prevent illness or injury resulting from weather conditions are:
- Learning the signs that indicate the weather is making a worker ill
- Monitoring workers for signs of illness
- Training workers on how to protect themselves from the elements
- Setting an expectation that workers will dress appropriately for weather conditions
- Providing shade during hot weather and heated areas during cold weather in which workers can take breaks
- Scheduling work for cooler periods in the summer and warmer periods in the winter
Workers should dress in layers during the coldest weather and should, to the extent practical for the work, keep exposed skin covered with gloves, hats, and scarves to protect against frostbite. During hot, sunny weather, employees should wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts made of light material, and ultraviolet-resistant sunglasses. They should also apply sun block at regular intervals during the day.
In addition to higher Workers Compensation costs, employee injuries and illness rob a contractor of the productive services of good workers, divert management’s attention from the core business, and make the employer less attractive to good, skilled workers. Although contractors cannot completely protect their workers from the effects of extreme weather conditions, with some simple steps and training they can make losses from these conditions less likely and less severe.