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Working at heights during winter
With summer now officially behind us, it is time to start preparing work sites across Australia for the winter conditions ahead. The colder temperatures and wild weather conditions that typically hit the country from May through to October create a unique set of challenges and hazards on construction sites, particularly for those who work at heights.
In order to minimise these dangers on your site, it is important to know what conditions will put your employees at the most risk. Once these risks have been identified, addressing them can be as simple as offering working at heights training with a focus on using fall prevention practices and devices.
Australia is a large country with a variety of climates and rainy seasons. In Australia’s northern regions, the wet season typically lasts from November to March. However, the overall country experiences 11 per cent more rain in winter than in summer.
Even during the dry seasons, severe storms can drop significant amounts of rain, often leading to surface flooding due to the dry ground being unable to soak up the rainfall.
Rain is a serious hazard for construction workers, as the nature of their occupation often requires them to work outdoors – exposed to the elements. When severe rain strikes, flooding can pose a significant health risk through a number of dangers.
This includes individuals being swept away by flash floods, biological hazards due to water contamination, exposure to asbestos and chemical spills due to floodwaters shifting or breaching storage.
It is therefore important that you arrange an emergency evacuation plan for when floods strike your worksite. Additionally, all water sources, dangerous chemicals and damaged property should be checked for hazards once the water level has abated. This will prevent employees from returning to work and suffering an illness or injury indirectly related to the flood.
Rain is also particularly hazardous to employees working at heights due to surfaces becoming slick and slippery when wet. It is important that individuals working on sloped roofs and platforms with smooth surfaces are given access to fall prevention devices, such as harnesses and fall-arrest systems.
Low visibility is another hazard experienced in rainy conditions. If water blocks an employee’s vision, they could be at risk of tripping over a dropped tool, or tumbling from a raised platform and sustaining a serious injury. Personal protective equipment, such as goggles or hats with front-facing brims, can help minimise this risk.
Strong winds are a year-long concern for Australian workers on construction sites. The risk of a unexpected gust unbalancing an individual is particularly dangerous to those working at heights. If wind were to knock a worker off their feet while on a roof or raised platform, the individual is at risk of falling to the ground from a height.
Employees should therefore be discouraged from working above the ground on windy days. If working at heights cannot be avoided on a high-risk day, employers need to ensure fall-prevention devices are in use.
This includes installing handrails, investing in harnesses and supplying fall-arrest systems to any individual working at heights on your site.
When thunder storms strike in your area, it is important to immediately cease any work being performed on roofs or metallic structures above the ground.
Individuals working in these conditions are at risk of severe burns and even death if a lightning strike hits the platform they are standing on.
However, due to the unpredictable nature of weather, it can be difficult to track and anticipate storms in your region. To minimise the risk of an injury or fatality during a thunder storm, consider investing in rubber mats to place on raised metallic structures. This should help prevent the electricity from affecting workers standing on the platform.
Fatigue and stress
Working during severe weather can lead to increased stress and fatigue among your workers. Whether the wild winds have disrupted their sleeping patterns, or the bad weather is negatively affecting their moods, employees struggling with fatigue and stress could be at higher risk of a workplace injury.
When individuals are tired or distracted it is easy for them to make a simple mistake or attempt to cut corners to complete work faster. Unfortunately, when these habits occur they increase the risks already present while working from heights.
It is therefore important to train your staff to be aware of their personal health and wellbeing. Ensuring they stay focused and complete work to the highest standard is a crucial part of minimising the risk of falling from heights.
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