Safeguard construction sites during winter months
by Jake Morin
January 26, 2017

While weather experts predicted the 2016-2017 winter to be less harsh than the previous year, January has already proven that the majority of the United States is not immune—with snow already on the ground in 49 of the 50 states. Additionally, the Pineapple Express, a weather phenomenon causing torrential rain, heavy snow and damaging winds, has already hit Northern California and Nevada bringing the worst flooding in 11 years. With winter weather often unpredictable, construction managers and general contractors are responsible for taking extra precautions to minimize jobsite risks and protect workers.

Between mid-December and March, construction projects yield an even higher incidence of workplace casualties and even fatalities. In the cold and wet winter months, workers are more likely to slip and fall while on a jobsite. Equipment, too, can prove to be more costly and challenging to work with in winter conditions. By asking the right questions and identifying risks up front, contractors can keep workers safe and guarantee projects are completed smoothly, on time and on budget.

Special Factors for Cold & Wet Winter Months

Safety doesn’t just improve working conditions—it plays into bottom-line profitability. Worker accidents can be extremely costly, so contractors should always make sure they are getting quotes and securing coverage prior to starting a project.

General contractors also need to understand specific expectations and responsibilities associated with the jobsites they are overseeing. They must also make sure these expectations are aligned with local building codes and laws to see whether they are responsible for sidewalk maintenance, for example. Before starting any project and looking into insurance options, they should contact the local Code Enforcement Office to confirm responsibilities.

Innocent bystanders are another factor to take into consideration for wintertime building. Worksites need to have appropriate fencing and signage to keep pedestrians away from any potentially hazardous conditions. Workers should also remove as much ice and snow as possible on a regular basis to decrease the likelihood of injuries.

How to Prevent Icy Slips & Costly Falls

According to OSHA, slip-and-fall accidents are the most prevalent on-site issues (accounting for nearly 40 percent of total deaths in construction in 2014), especially mid-December through March when conditions are wetter and icier. To help prevent against costly slips and falls, consider which ladder systems will be most beneficial (e.g. indoor vs. outdoor ladders and what type of material) and make sure they are up to code with OSHA standards.

Icy driving conditions should also be taken into account. Transportation incidents caused 209 constructor worker deaths in 2010 and accounted for more than 26 percent of construction fatalities. Give drivers ample time and encourage extreme caution when driving to and from sites.

Tackling Seasonal Hazards with Tailored Risk Mitigation Solutions

Cranes can be incredibly dangerous, especially when powerful winds whip through during winter months. For example, in February 2016, a 500-foot crane boom collapsed in New York City, crushing parked cars and killing an innocent bystander. This caused the mayor to implement stricter rules and more specific safety precautions for operating cranes, such as putting crawler cranes in safety mode following a forecast of winds higher than 20 miles per hour, and more strictly enforcing street and sidewalk closings near operational cranes. Operators must stay on top of local regulations and proposed changes, rather than simply looking to adhere to the bare minimum set of regulations for a given project. For ultimate protection when using cranes in winter months, seek out insurance partners that have specialized crane programs that safeguard crane operators, other works on the jobsite and civilians against the potential hazards they can cause.

Scaffold protection is another important consideration to keep in mind when evaluating worker safety. OSHA estimates that 65 percent of construction workers spend some time working on scaffolds, with worker falls as the most prominent hazard to protect against. As with the start of any project, regardless of weather, inspecting the jobsite is always first and foremost. When bad weather does hit, pay extra attention to the structure of the scaffold. While most scaffolds are built to withstand snow and ice, they do have weight limits. Contractors can never be too careful and should always protect against any potential dangers to workers. Additionally, the right scaffolding insurance can not only protect workers, but also can protect contractors from certain types of equipment damage due to bad weather.

During the winter months when crime can increase, consider installing cameras for added security and protection against thefts during off hours and false slip-and-fall lawsuits. Some insurance providers may even offer discounts to security camera vendors to help provide an added layer of protection. Finally, if contractors forget to adequately protect their projects from the elements, which may render the property uninhabitable, an obstruction of premises supplemental coverage can be valuable. This coverage can give contractors added peace of mind and protection against mistakes, covering a customer’s cost of eligible living expenses or fair rental value when needed.

Consult an Expert Source about Protection

Always reach out to insurance partners with any questions. While the temptation may be to see insurers as a fail-safe to protect contractors and subcontractors from projects gone awry, it is better to view them as a resource available to help contractors set the roadmap for success before the shovels hit the ground.

Insurers have expertise in the space as well as data on the most costly incidents with the highest payouts to help inform preventative decisions that will keep projects on budget and on track. Select an insurance partner with specific knowledge in the field and a willingness to work with contractors along the way. Let them help and guide insurance options to prevent costly claims from being realized further down the line. Prevention is the key to ensuring the best possible outcomes and a productive building season during the more dangerous and challenging cold winter months.