Winter Emergency Response Planning for New Jersey Construction Sites

Construction projects need to continue throughout the year, but weather conditions can impact a variety of factors on the job site. When a big snowstorm rolls into the area, it can affect the schedule, budget, and even the health and safety of the team. At Mikula Contracting, we always try to coordinate projects that make sense seasonally that way we work with and not against the weather. 

With that said every experienced contractor knows that winter construction work can pose unique threats to workers and contractors. During the winter months, it’s essential to take proactive steps to keep the construction sites safer. Not only do these measures protect your team members, but they also help to keep the project on schedule to avoid costly delays.

What actions are you putting into place this winter season? Here are a few effective recommendations to help with your planning and preparation.

Identifying Potential Winter Hazards on Construction Sites

Even before the snow starts falling, hold a preseason meeting to address topics that might impact the project in the colder months. All contractors, clients, workers, and management must be involved in this conversation.

The team can work together to discuss factors such as materials availability, site mobilization, upcoming activities, tasks, and an assessment of potential hazards and dangers. 

Since these hazards change depending on weather conditions and the nature of each construction project, hazard assessment isn’t a one-time activity. Ongoing assessments and evaluations are necessary to identify and prevent any other dangers that might come up during the course of construction.

Examples of potential hazards on a construction site include:

  • Potholes and poor road conditions
  • Reduced traction
  • Slick surfaces that can cause falls
  • Heavy snow
  • Ice and snow falling from the equipment and rooftop
  • Limited daylight hours 
  • Frozen ground 
  • Reduction in visibility due to snow or decreased light
  • Power lines down
  • Utility services disrupted
  • Large obstacles hidden or buried by ice or snow

Ongoing monitoring of weather conditions is essential to make real-time adjustments on the job site as needed. Keep in mind that longer-term weather forecasts aren’t accurate, so it’s difficult to plan for weather conditions pre-season. Instead, updated work schedules need to be managed continually as new information becomes available. In addition, the health and safety of employees are more important than the project timeline, so if the weather is not cooperating at Mikula Contracting, we do not put our employees at risk for the sake of the job. 

Equipment and Material Precautions for Cold Weather

The construction site should have plenty of snow removal equipment, including shovels, de-icing solutions, and other tools to remove snow from the walkways and driving paths. Sometimes, heavy equipment, such as a skid steer, can be retrofitted with snow removal equipment so the construction sites can be cleared quickly and efficiently after a big snowfall. 

Also, consider materials and equipment to keep your team members warm in this weather. Everyone should have personal protective equipment (PPE) as a last line of defense to protect against the risk of injuries, hypothermia, and frostbite. 

The best solution is to have workers wear clothing in layers. The layer closest to the skin should be a thermal underlayer, such as wool socks, a top, and pants. Insulating layers are added on top of the underlayer. Then the outer layer helps to protect against wind and moisture, such as jackets, windbreakers, wind-blocking pants, hats, and face masks.

When PPE is used in layers, the workers have the option to shed or add layers when the temperatures change. For example, if the sun comes out, then workers can shed the insulating layers to prevent excessive sweating. If a person sweats too much and the temperatures drop again, then it can increase the risk of hypothermia because the underlayers are wet and the body temperature drops.

As you are choosing equipment and PPE for workers, make sure that team members have optimal dexterity, vision, and mobility at all times. Consider the work environment and necessary tasks when choosing gloves, boots, eyewear, and other equipment.

Finally, keep in mind that vehicle and equipment maintenance needs are more demanding in the winter. Heavy equipment requires regular checks for safety, looking for ice buildup, snow, frozen pipes, cracks, and more. Ensure the fluids are at optimal levels and let the vehicle warm up before starting work.

Environmental Compliance and Winter Construction

As you are implementing winter construction measures on the job site, it’s important to keep environmental compliance in mind. For example, de-icing products can help melt frozen surfaces, but some of these products have toxic ingredients that can seep into groundwater. Additionally, take the time to research before the winter comes so you are prepared with the proper tools and products to stay in compliance based on the forecasted work.

After heavy snowfalls, have processes in place for snow removal, sanding, and de-icing. Ensure these responsibilities are assigned in advance so the right team members clear the work site before the rest of the team shows up each day. It’s also important to read labels and understand what is appropriate to use for snow removal and de-icing. 

Additionally, trailers and buildings should be properly winterized and fitted with doors and windows that latch securely. In sub-zero temperatures, utility systems and piping must be protected from the cold temperatures. For example, these systems might use anti-freeze treatments or heat trace insulation to prevent freezing. 

Always prioritize snow removal on walking paths and roadways. Anywhere people will be moving back and forth throughout the day is a place where there is an increased risk of an accident. 

Key Components of a Winter Emergency Response Plan

During the planning process, make sure to set aside budget and resources for managing the winter conditions and protecting your team. Create emergency response systems in case an unexpected event happens, including evacuation plans. Have a site-wide alert system if notifications need to be sent out. A PA system can be used, but also have a plan in place for communicating with vehicle operators and remote workers who also need to receive notifications about severe weather conditions.

During bad weather, emergency first responders are often delayed in their arrival. So, on-site workers need basic training for administering first aid if needed. 

Have emergency equipment on-site at all times, including a fire extinguisher, torches, first aid kits, blankets, food, a radio, and more. Not only do these items need to be ready on the construction site, but it is also good to place emergency equipment in every vehicle.

Keep Your Construction Site Safe During the Winter

At Mikula Contracting, we implement the best strategies to maintain safety on your construction site. Regardless of the weather conditions or the time of year, you can have confidence in knowing that we are maintaining the highest levels of safety and care. Contact us for more information about available services.

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