We’re halfway through a winter that has tested everyone’s job site operations. If winter work at your job site isn’t going exactly as planned, it’s not too late to make some course corrections, to ensure:
- that your workers are well protected and working safely
- that your job site is free of snow-hidden hazards
- that your equipment is running reliably, and
- that your supplies are on-site when you need them.
If there’s one thing we know about our industry, it’s that deadlines don’t stop for anything–including icy winter blasts or drenching ‘atmospheric rivers’.
You may be in the planning, monitoring or wrap-up phase of a winter construction project. This guide provides information and planning checklists to keep your winter job sites safe, efficient and in compliance with health & safety and construction codes. We're going to cover:
- Safeguarding your site operations in winter
- Planning a safe winter job site
- Municipal bylaws and building codes
- Additional health & safety resources
Safeguarding your site operations in winter
When you’re running a job site in winter, your main goal is to monitor and maintain operations and continue worker education and training to mitigate the risks associated with winter hazards. While the process starts with a pre-season plan, these activities are among many that require your attention all winter long.
Education and training
More seasoned and experienced crew members may know how to operate safely in winter conditions, but new employees tend to find themselves unknowingly in accident-prone situations. Eliminating job site hazards makes it easier for new people to stay safe. Refreshers and reviews can be delivered through safety meetings or training sessions during the winter season. Topics you should review include:
- PPE use and maintenance
- Cold exposure and cold injuries
- Stretching and warm-up breaks
- Buddy system
- Winter driving and vehicle maintenance
- Slip, trip and fall prevention
- Ergonomics for snow removal
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
While it can be bulky, it's important that winter PPE strikes the balance between protecting against the cold and the hazards of the job. Find ways to ensure that the equipment will allow an adequate degree of mobility and dexterity to complete tasks specific to your vertical. The key to job site winter clothing is layering for comfort, insulation and protection from the elements. In the table below we've expanded upon the right way to approach the clothing layers of protective equipment.
Equipment, particularly heavy equipment, has different optimal operating requirements in winter. Check the operating temperatures of your diesel fuel and coolant and use winter-grade products if necessary. Keep the fuel tank as full as possible to prevent water from getting inside and freezing. Where possible, store your equipment in a warm and dry location. You should also:
- Store fluids at their specified storage temperature and keep them contaminant-free.
- Give your machinery time to warm up before getting into gear. Diesel engines need more time to generate the heat necessary for successful operation.
- Keep the battery fully charged. Extremely cold temperatures tend to deplete batteries. Avoid energy leaks by unplugging the battery in machinery that is seldom used.
- During your visual machine inspections, look for built-up snow or ice–particularly on critical machine parts (hydraulics, hoses and tires) and places where people access the machine (steps, ladders and walkways).
- Like utilities, critical equipment should be flagged, marked, and identified by snow fences or barricades along the outer boundaries to prevent damage from snow removal operations.
Material and tool storage
A clean and tidy workplace eliminates hidden hazards. Secure material, netting, ladders, chutes and accessories. Store tools in job boxes or tool cribs at the end of shift and ensure all cords are hung or flagged in situ in case of snowfall. Avoid leaving them out in the work areas or truck boxes overnight.
Materials should be raised off the ground and stored on dunnage to prevent freezing to the ground. Well organized, properly barricaded and identified lay-down areas allow for easy snow removal in and around stored materials.
Around this time of year, ensuring certain materials are within easy access for the crew can prove significant in light of emergencies. As a construction materials procurement service, we see shifts in demand for products such as:
- Ice lock melter,
- Snow shovels,
- Windshield washer fluid,
- Hay & Insulation Blanket
- Heating cables
(You can find these materials on the TOOLBX App)
Through the winter months, inspect the job site regularly to monitor areas that require snow removal, including:
- Parking areas
- Pedestrian walkways
- Stairs and ladders
- Access/egress to building’s utilities, temporary power, heating and lighting for maintenance and fuelling
- Elevated work locations
Emergency response routes and high traffic areas take priority for snow clearing. Utilities, storage and excavation areas must be flagged and posted so they’re visible during snow removal and areas on-site should be designated for snow storage such that the snowmelt will drain downhill, away from the job site.
Planning a safe winter job site
It all starts with a plan. Various activities must be completed throughout the year to prepare for and handle winter conditions on the job site. Creating a detailed planning schedule will help to ensure all activities are completed in time to set up a safe, productive winter job site. The process also helps identify factors that can affect progress and the bottom line so you can budget time and resources accordingly.
Winter Work-Plan Schedule
Site safety, management and supply logistics are important for builders across the board. We’ve adapted some of COAA’s Winter Works checklists to help you with your job site winterization planning, monitoring and review:
- Winter work kick-off meeting action plan template
- Pre-season hazard assessment checklist template
- Winter inventory and supplies guide template
- Winter site safety checklist template
- Winter holiday shutdown plan template
Municipal bylaws and building codes
Each municipality has bylaws that affect your construction job site in all seasons, particularly winter. The bylaws or related documentation can usually be found on the civic website under the bylaws or planning and development. These categories encapsulate the relevant bylaws affecting job sites, particularly in winter:
- Noise bylaws – decibel level, permitted hours of work
- Site safety plan
- Snow removal
- Street parking
- Equipment such as hoists, derricks and cranes
- Fences, sheds and scaffolds
- Site maintenance – maintaining a tidy site
- Pipe safety
- Temporary heating
Interestingly, the City of New York provides a very detailed ‘construction in winter’ section with detailed bylaws for winter job sites.
Did you know? : In Canada, building codes are under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, with some chartered municipalities that have the power to mandate their own standards for their building by-laws. These jurisdictions are able to create their own codes, or they can adopt (or adapt) the national model codes, currently the 2015 National Building Code (NBC).
Building codes are rules that help regulate construction activities across the country. Building codes in Canada are designed with provincial weather conditions kept in mind, and specify local laws relating to how buildings should be designed or built. These have an equal focus on aspects of safety and project end outcome quality.
These national links lead to provincial links which contain relevant building code information for winter job sites:
Health & safety resources
Health and safety resources are designed from a broader perspective to mitigate risks, over and above weather-specific challenges. Close compliance with rules in your region are the sure shot way to not let unforeseen events affect your bottom line.
- Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act
- US – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) - enforcement
Additional helpful links
- Environment Canada Wind Chill Chart
- CAA and AMA weather and road conditions for your region
- Government of Canada weather information
- The Weather Network – current highway conditions for your region
For this blog piece, we’ve adapted several checklists and resource materials from the Construction Owners Association of Alberta’s (COAA) open-source Winter Works Best Practices guide. The COAA encourages the reproduction of their information and we thank them for the opportunity to share it with you.
And with that we hope we've given you several pointers for any stage and scale of projects affected by the harsh and sometimes limiting factors of winter construction. The winter season sure changes safety procedures across the board, making preparation very important. Over the years, you may even find yourself budgeting for winter months in advance. Investing a fair amount of thought, time and money to create a dedicated winter safety program for your project is vital in ensuring your job site can run at maximum efficiency all year round.