Spring can be one of the trickiest months for those of us in the steel buildings and construction industry. While some parts of the country are bathed in sunshine and record-breaking heat waves, others continue to be buried under piles of snow and ice. In the middle of that, snow melt and rainstorms create slick, slippery and dangerous working conditions for workers and other personnel who have access to the job site.
Don't Let Rainy Spring Weather Get the Best of Your Safety Program
Unless it's pouring, it's easy to forget how dangerous rain can be. Even a mild drizzle or a 30-minutes shower sets up the potential for slip and fall hazards and visibility issues that compromise worker safety. Consider that rainy conditions affect:
- Protective Gear. If your employees are working in the rain, they need to have the appropriate protective gear, including rain coats and waterproof footwear. If work is being done near moving water, your employees need to wear flotation devices. In several states, including California and Minnesota, employers are responsible providing protective gear for inclement weather.
- Cold Exposure. Typically, spring rains are cold rains, especially in the north east and Midwest, and that puts workers at risk for cold exposure.
- Live Wires. Wet weather brings a higher probability that electrical cables can be live.
- Slippery Surfaces. From walkways and roofs to scaffolding and the wet ground surrounding trenches, the presence of moisture means an increased chance of slip and fall accidents.
- Cave Ins. Dug out areas of earth are more prone to cave ins.
- Heavy Equipment Difficulties. The combination of rain and high winds can make it more difficult to operate certain pieces of equipment, especially those with higher profiles such as cranes.
- Lightning Strikes. Rain and thunderstorms increases the chances of lightning strikes, so workers should be kept away from cranes, exposed steel framework and other equipment or building features that can act as lightning rods.
Keep in mind that OSHA considers it your responsibility to protect workers from weather-related hazards. The following tips can help you do that.
Get Familiar with Your State's OSHA Laws. Similar to building codes, individual states can set OSHA safety laws that go above and beyond those set at the national level. Your company is beholden to the OSHA regulations set by your state. If you haven't spoken with an OSHA representative lately, now is a good time to schedule an appointment. It is free and can provide a wealth of information to make sure your company is adhering to local regulations.
Protect Workers from Cold Stress. Like heat stress, cold stress can creep up on an employee quickly. OSHA reminds us that cold stress isn't isolated to freezing temperatures. It can happen in temperatures as high as 50° F with the addition of wind and rain. The first line of defense is protective clothing; Employees should wear layers, with the outer layer consisting of rain gear. Set up shelters where employees can get a break from the wind and rain. Use space heaters safely and appropriately if necessary. Train workers to recognize the signs of cold stress and have them work in pairs so employees notice when their partner is exhibiting signs of cold stress.
Maintain a Clear View. Visibility is critical for a safe working environment. Just a few drops on an employee's safety goggles or a dark, cloudy or foggy day are enough to compromise clear visibility. Safety goggles should be cleaned or wiped down with anti-fogging sprays or wipes before employees head outside. Change the timers on your outdoor lights so the workspace remains illuminated during daylight hours if clouds or fog are present.
Be Smart about Equipment Use. If employees are working in the elements, they should be using equipment that is rated specifically for outdoor use. If conditions are wet, make sure employees are using tools with textures, non-slip handles.
Move Slowly and Methodically. We all have a tendency to work as fast as possible in inclement weather so we can get back indoors. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for accident disaster. Instead, coach your employees to work slowly and methodically to lessen their chances of accident and injury. Providing ample protective clothing and gear will help them to be more comfortable when it's cold, rainy and/or windy.
Don Appropriate Hand and Footwear. Gloves should fit snugly and have a nonslip grip, especially when working with hand tools. Boots should have a heavy tread to prevent slipping. Boots should come up over the ankles, and the top of the boots should be underneath the pant leg, rather than the other way around.
Make Sure Workers Are Seen. When visibility is poor, workers should have bright, reflective outerwear, especially in areas with vehicle traffic.
Whirlwind Steel wishes you and your crew a safe and healthy spring.