It’s well known that during the winter things tend to slow down on the job-site. Winter weather can create slippery, dangerous conditions. The shorter days of winter mean you have fewer lighted hours for the workday and your team is arriving in the dark.

In anticipation of dropping temperatures, you likely made a big push to finish projects or at least get the walls and roofs complete on outstanding builds. Now, the time that you do have to work is precious. Make sure it is being used to the best of your ability. That means planning for efficiency and ensuring your team is healthy, safe, and productive.

Michael Faith, Risk Management Technical Manager at Builders Mutual, outlines the risks of working in winter weather and provides a checklist for preparing your site and team this season.

The Risks of Winter Weather

Across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, workers usually won’t be working outside in severe winter weather when several inches of snow cover the ground. However, during cold temperatures, sleet, and freezing rain, people will likely still be working under cover. On job-sites where the walls and roofs were successfully secured during the fall months, tradesmen will be using this time to get into the building and outfit the interior.

Workers may be protected from the elements, but they are still exposed to the stressors of working in the cold. It is important to be cognizant of the potential injuries—and workers’ compensation claims—that are unique to working in winter weather.

Common winter challenges include:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Cold stress
  • Slips and falls

No matter how badly you want to get your team back to work, you must have a safe work environment. So how can you protect your team this winter? Here are five categories to review with your employees.

A Checklist for Working During the Winter

✓ Dress for success

Dressing in layers is essential. You’ll be able to remove or add layers as your physical activity and the weather change throughout the day. Be sure the outer layer is waterproof to prevent dampness from penetrating to the skin.

Keep gloves on when possible to maintain the dexterity of your hands. The combination of cold hands and cold metal ladders can result in decreased grip and potential falls. Some tasks will require you to remove gloves for detailed work, like tightening a small screw, so keep hand warmers nearby for these situations.

✓ Keep moving

If you’re sedentary while performing a task, make sure you pause regularly to get up and move around. Take advantage of your breaks to warm up. Change activities throughout the day when possible.

✓ Stay hydrated

Remember to drink water and hydrate as if it’s a normal, warm day. Even when it’s cold outside, you perspire and need to replenish fluids.

✓ Assess daily hazards

Perform activity hazard assessments. Review which tasks you are doing each day and how the team can prepare for those jobs. For example, determine whether these tasks will be performed inside or outside. Work through the potential problems and their solutions. If it’s a windy day, wind chill is going to be a major issue. Can you set up to work against a side of the building where you’ll be protected from the wind?

✓ Plan your work for the next day

Before you leave for the day, begin planning for tomorrow. Review what is left to do, who will be on the job-site, and what the weather will be like hourly. Take advantage of pre-work briefings with your team to discuss safety topics and training materials that relate to the hazards you have identified. Then assign action items or roles to your team. For example, if there’s a chance the temperature will be below freezing when you arrive, have the first person on the job-site in the morning be responsible for putting down salt and sand to improve traction on icy walkways.

By controlling the hazards of winter weather, you can protect your team from potential injury and keep your job-site running efficiently during the darkest and coldest months of the year.

Review this checklist with your employees and discuss ways you can all contribute to a culture of safety.

Content reviewed 1-2024