Some people think construction work shuts down completely during the winter. But this isn’t the case.
Some construction workers do leave the coldest states and travel south during the winter months. But many projects still have to move forward, even in the coldest climates. The only other option would be for construction firms to wait for the spring thaw. But because of budgetary constraints and the time it can take to plan a project, businesses don’t always have that luxury.
There’s a myth that concrete poured during the winter is weaker. While it’s true that builders add calcium chloride to accelerate curing during cold weather, there’s no real difference in the concrete’s strength. Concrete treated for winter curing meets the same building codes as concrete without the additive.
The bigger challenge to concrete work during the winter is frozen ground. Concrete footings can’t be placed, and only so much digging can be done when the temperature is low. Melting frost can also lead to mud and water on a construction site.
Cold weather increases fuel costs, too. Concrete mixers cost more to run during cold weather because more fuel is needed to run the boiler to heat the water.
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The extra costs associated with winter construction aren’t as important as worker safety.
Limiting workers’ exposure to the elements is crucial. This can be difficult if the weather doesn’t cooperate and brings wind and snow during a critical phase of a project. But it’s still paramount to protect workers by scheduling outside work in short durations. Site supervisors must also provide workers with a warm break area.
Limiting caffeine is also important. This advice seems counterintuitive – drinking hot coffee would seem like an ideal way to protect oneself from the cold. But caffeine increases the heart rate, which can make workers feel warmer than their bodies actually are. This can put them in the dangerous situation of not realizing they need to take a break to warm up.
Construction workers – and anyone laboring outdoors during the winter months – should be trained by a supervisor to recognize the signs of hypothermia. They include:
2) Slurred speech or mumbling
3) Slow, shallow breathing
4) Clumsiness or lack of coordination
5) Drowsiness or very low energy
About 70% of winter-weather-related injuries occur in a vehicle.
To prevent vehicle-related injuries during cold weather, site supervisors should add winter emergency kits to work vehicles. Equipment should include ice scrapers, snow brushes, shovels, tow chains, flashlights with extra batteries, emergency flares, blankets, snacks, and water.
But work vehicles don’t pose the only danger to construction workers. Many laborers have to travel to and from job sites in their personal vehicles.
To stay safe, construction workers should keep all of the emergency equipment listed above in their personal vehicles. They should also know what to do if they end up stranded in a vehicle during cold weather:
1) Call for help.
2) Don’t leave your vehicle and walk for help. You have a better chance of being found if you stay with your vehicle, which is also often the best shelter from the elements.
3) Keep the exhaust pipe free from snow, and roll down a window enough to vent the vehicle and prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Run the vehicle for short 15-20 minute intervals to warm up and then turn it back off.
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