Wet weather risks and safety precautions for construction workers
Wet weather poses numerous risks for construction workers. Hence, as part of WHS, it is critical that workers and employees on site recognise and manage these risks.
What to Expect
Senior Safety Advisor at HIA Safety Services, Rick Little identifies the most common wet weather dangers as “slips, trips and falls”. He says these dangers are particularly prevalent when working in elevated positions such as when using scaffolding, hand holds, stairs and ladders.
Little also points out that workers should be aware of these risks relative to the environment. Not only during wet weather, but also when conditions are particularly muddy underfoot, and during strong winds and storms.
“Strong winds create particularly hazardous conditions”, he explained. Unsecured materials are dislodged and scaffolding are uplifted. “Wet and windy weather can also make driving and operating mobile plant more dangerous due to reduced visibility.”
Whilst the likelihood of getting struck by lightning is not high, it is important to understand how lightning behaves in order to minimise the risk, according to Little.
“Lightning tends to strike higher ground and prominent objects, especially materials that are good conductors of electricity, such as metal. Thunder can be a good indicator of lightning – loud crackling means its close, whereas rumbling means the storm is further away.”
“The safest place to be during a thunderstorm is inside a building that is fully enclosed with a roof, walls and floor”. He added “electrical wiring, plumbing, telephone line, or antennas to ground the lightning, should the building be hit directly.”
Additionally, Little identifies electrical hazards as one of the more recognisable dangers associated with working in wet weather.
“Using power tools in the rain or wet conditions after the rain can result in electrocution,” he says.
In construction, adverse weather can also increase the likelihood of long-term health issues. If weather conditions are both cold and wet, there is an increased risk of hypothermia. It is a medical condition in which the victim’s core body temperature drops significantly, impairing normal metabolism.
Early warning signs of this include excessive shivering, blue lips and fingers, slurred speech, poor coordination and confusion or impaired thinking.
Additionally, trench foot is also possible. Exposure to damp, cold, unsanitary conditions for prolonged periods of time cause this condition. The foot becomes numb, changes colour, swells and starts to smell due to damage to the skin, blood vessels and nerves in the feet.
There are no specific laws relating to working conditions in wet weather. However, Little suggests reviewing weather forecasts prior to undertaking any construction work. Therefore, employers should take appropriate measures to ensure worker safety.
“It is important that work ceases if there is an assessment that the level of risk from the weather is not acceptable to any workers on site.”
Precautions to take during adverse weather conditions could include:
- Provide workers with the necessary skills to identify wet weather related hazards and illnesses and the processes to follow to minimise the risk.
- Set up workbenches on solid, clean surfaces not directly exposed to the elements.
- Reorganise work so workers stay in dry sheltered areas until the weather improves.
- Make sure to properly maintain all power tools and designs of electrical leads are outdoor-friendly.
- Keep the site clean and tidy. Look out for foreign substances on the floors to avoid slips.
- Wear appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including the selection and use of anti-fog eye protection and wipes.
- Wear the right gloves for the task. Gloves should have enough insulation to keep you warm, but be thin enough so you can feel what you are doing.
- Wear several layers of clothing rather than one thick layer. Safety shoes/boots need to have anti-slip soles and sufficient tread to prevent slips or falls on wet surfaces. For trench work and extremely muddy sites, the situation may call for gumboots as a control measure .
Ready yourself wherever forecasted heavy rain will be. Review open trenches, excavations, scaffolding (support) and lift wells and pits that can quickly become hazardous.