construction WHS

Wet weather risks and safety precautions for construction workers

Wet weather risks safety constructionWet weather poses numerous risks for construction workers, so it is critical these are recognised and managed by both workers and employees on site.

Senior Safety Advisor at HIA Safety Services, Rick Little identifies the most common wet weather dangers as “slips, trips and falls” and 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 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, causing unsecured materials to be dislodged and scaffolding to be 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, and 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.

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 – a medical condition in which the victim’s core body temperature drops significantly, causing normal metabolism to be impaired.

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 a condition caused by exposure to damp, cold, unsanitary conditions for prolonged periods of time. 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 so that appropriate measures can be taking 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:

  • Ensuring workers are provided with the necessary skills to identify wet weather related hazards and illnesses and the processes to follow to minimise the risk.
  • Setting up workbenches on solid, clean surfaces not directly exposed to the elements.
  • Reorganisation of work so workers can be in dry sheltered areas until the weather improves.
  • Ensuring all power tools are properly maintained and electrical leads are designed for outdoor use.
  • Keeping the site clean and tidy. Avoiding slips by being on the lookout for foreign substances on the floors.
  • Wearing appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including the selection and use of anti-fogging eye protection and wipes.
  • Wearing 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.
  • Wearing 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. Gumboots may be required as a control measure for trench work and extremely muddy sites.

Where heavy rain is forecast, open trenches, excavations, scaffolding (support) and lift wells and pits may quickly become hazardous and need to be reviewed.