Working safely at height in adverse winter weather conditions
While some news outlets are predicting a very harsh winter, others are saying it will be mild. Whatever the weather this winter, Riwal UK’s commitment to safety does not end when a customer takes delivery of their powered access platforms.
Regular vehicle checks must be maintained to check for problems such as freezing components and hoses cracking caused by low temperatures and it is always a good idea to store vehicles inside or under covers.
Calum Paterson, Safety, Quality, Health and Environment Manager, said: “At Riwal UK we maintain a year-round focus on safety.
“By communicating the changing risks throughout the year to staff and reminding them that site conditions are continuously changing, we aim to have a positive impact on safety culture across the powered access industry. We are always available to help our customers manage the safe operation of our powered access platforms during the winter months.
“This year we are issuing winter safety reminders and car care packs to all staff, made up of an ice-scraper, de-icer and screenwash.”
Here are Riwal UK’s top ten reminders for the safe use of aerial work platforms and working at height in cold weather.
- Periodic site surveys and risk assessment as seasons change
All work sites contain potential risks, especially if they are busy construction sites. Site congestion, in itself, is a safety risk with conflicting priorities when multiple contractors and machines are in operation.
If an external project runs from Summer to Winter the site should be re-surveyed periodically to check for new hazards. These include water leaks that turn to ice, paths and access routes that freeze and become slip hazards, and firm ground that becomes sodden, creating an uneven surface.
Consider having a toolbox talk about how best to use MEWPs in winter. Baskets stored in the air are more likely to freeze overnight – this can also happen during the day. If possible, remove the control box and keep machines indoors and warm.
- Selecting the correct aerial work platform for the job
Selecting the right aerial work platform, mobile elevating work platform or MEWP for the job is something the Riwal UK hire team is always on hand to assist with, especially when going into changeable or adverse weather conditions. Riwal UK’s experienced advisors are familiar with the specs of all the powered access platforms available for hire and will make sound recommendations.
- PPE and suitable cold weather clothing for aerial work platform operation
Yes, layering clothing is obvious, but it’s also important to ensure that windproof and waterproof clothing doesn’t get in the way of PPE or compromise its efficiency. This includes making sure gloves are thin enough to allow operators to use control panels accurately and that waterproof layers don’t get in the way of safety harnesses.
Working at height can add degrees to the wind chill factor, making workers much colder than those on the ground. Workers should never have to chose between being warm and being safe.
- Working at height job rotation and adequate rest breaks
Working outside in cold weather requires more energy and consumes more calories than working in warm conditions indoors, meaning operators working at height tire more easily and more quickly and their concentration can be affected.
Dropping tools can be a sign of fatigue and can have serious consequences, as workers are injured by falling objects every year. Cold hands may also increase the risk of dropped tools and materials.
Make sure staff are rotated to different jobs regularly and given adequate rest breaks and opportunities to warm up and change into dry clothing. Operator wellbeing should be paramount.
Being cold and wet can divert operators’ attention from important safety procedures and may encourage the cutting of corners in MEWP operation.
- Reduced visibility for MEWP operators
Winter in the UK means shorter daylight hours, so MEWP operators are working in the dark at the start and end of the working day, with lower light levels throughout the day and frequently early morning mist.
Visibility is further reduced every time it rains or snows, increasing the risk of accidents. Site managers must know exactly where all machines are on site and what areas they are working in.
Workers are injured by moving vehicles every year and the risk is increased in low light conditions. Ensure external lighting is adequate and additional lighting rigs are focused on the areas where operators need it most without obstructing other workers.
- Check the weather, temperature and wind readings regularly
Snow is always visible, ice may not be. Regular site inspections for ice formation are essential when the temperature drops below freezing. Keeping an eye on weather forecasts and wind readings is essential for any project where operators are working at height.
Average wind speed forecasts are available from the UK Met Office up to five days in advance, but competent contractors should use a hand-held anemometer to measure local wind speed. The Riwal UK Hire desk will advise on the wind rating restrictions of each specific MEWP on site.
- Caring for batteries in low temperatures
Temperatures in the UK rarely drop below -10° C and batteries remain effective in average UK winter conditions. However extreme temperatures are not good for any type of battery. Regardless of the outside temperatures, operators using battery-powered aerial access platforms should always use the correct transformer with the shortest charging lead possible, and charge batteries overnight.
- Soft and waterlogged ground can destabilise powered access machines
Access platforms that don’t have a firm and secure footing can lead to dangerous slipping and tilting. Frozen solid ground can become soft and slippery during the day as a result of an increase in temperature and direct sunlight.
It is also difficult to recognise unsuitable ground when it is covered with snow, making it a bad idea to drive MEWPs over snow-covered ground. Check surfaces throughout the day and use dry levelling plates if necessary to prevent the aerial work platform from slipping, sinking or tilting.
- Use a buddy system while working at height
Make sure operators use a buddy system and regularly check each other for signs of fatigue and loss of concentration. Anyone noticing a co-worker having difficulty with tasks should recommend they move to safety and warm up. In extreme cold, use the buddy system to check for signs of hypothermia and make sure all operators on site know what the signs are.
- Protect the PPE kit that protects you
A working at height operative’s safety harness and lanyard is his or her most valuable piece of equipment. All PPE should be stored correctly in a dry place when not in use, preferably at a temperature that is maintained above freezing. It is the operator’s responsibility to inspect the harness before use to ensure it is fit for purpose.
For more information about hiring the correct powered access hire equipment for adverse weather conditions, talk to the Riwal UK hire desk team on 0844 335 2993.