22 February 2018

Roofing safety in winter weather

When the temperature drops and the wintery weather arrives, it can lead to dangerous conditions on building sites. Roofing professionals are especially prone to these additional risks due to working at height in high winds and on surfaces that become extra slippery when covered in rain or snow. 

But work can’t stop until the sun comes back out, so instead, appropriate steps must be taken to prevent injury and illness.

Risk assessment

Improving safety means first understanding the risks - and the cold weather brings plenty. For one thing, there’s the increased risk of slips and falls due to potentially wet, windy and icy situations. 

There’s also the fact that being outside for prolonged periods of time in cold weather could mean workers are more likely to suffer from winter illnesses like colds and bronchitis. Health conditions like asthma, painful joints and fatigue may be exacerbated in wintery weather, while hypothermia, frostbite and chilblains are other concerns.

It’s important to realise that it doesn’t have to reach freezing temperatures outside for risk of injury or illness to go up. In fact, the additional hazards start to become issues at relatively mild temperatures. 

You also can’t make informed decisions based solely on what a thermometer says. Wind chills can make the temperature outside feel much lower and heavy winds can lead to dangerous conditions, especially when working at height. Meanwhile, rain can make platforms and rooftops more slippery, and even if the sun does come out, icy patches in the shade may not melt.

To get a clear understanding of the weather conditions, and what they mean for roofing contractors, risk assessments must be carried out, and the relevant health and safety procedures should be followed at all times. 

Snow, ice and extreme cold

Although there are no definitive industry regulations to define when it’s too cold for construction workers to carry out their jobs, there is a duty of care for the protection of employees according to the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 - also known as the CDM - requires that outdoor work is arranged and equipment/clothing is provided to protect workers during adverse weather. Meanwhile, the Work at Height Regulations 2005, state that work should not be carried out if weather conditions could endanger the health and safety of workers. 

In a publication entitled Health and Safety in Roof Work, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns that “rain, ice or snow can turn a secure footing into a skating rink”. It goes on to explain that a roof should always be inspected before work starts to see if conditions have changed and to check whether it is safe to work.

Wind

According to the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC), “Roofers must always be made aware of and understand the hazards which can overtake them whenever work is attempted or continued in windy conditions.” it also points out that wind conditions on the ground can be much different than they are on a rooftop, so any measurements of wind speed or direction must be taken at the actual location where work will be carried out.

The organisation has published a comprehensive guide to working in high winds, and it sets out maximum wind speeds for roofing and cladding work for contractors. When it comes to slating and tiling, they recommend:

● All laying or handling of slates, tiles, battens and felt at roof level should cease when the (average) mean wind speed reaches 23 mph (gusting to 35 mph or over).
● When handling rolls of felt at roof level, extreme care should be taken when the mean wind speeds are in the region of 17 mph (gusting to 26 mph or over).

Taking precautions

A little preparation goes a long way to improving safety conditions on construction sites, especially in wintery conditions.

“Accident statistics prove that there is an increased risk of personal injury during the winter months,” Gary Walpole, technical and health and safety officer at the NFRC, told RCI Magazine. “Increased hazards from reduced daylight and inclement weather means precautions need to be taken in advance to protect the wellbeing of our workforce,” he added.

For managers and supervisors, preparation means:

● Monitoring weather forecasts - This will help you anticipate unfavourable conditions.
● Carrying out risk assessments - Check every day to ensure that it is safe to work and that conditions haven’t changed. Special attention should be paid to working at height platforms, and work should not be carried out on roofs if conditions are icy.
● Checking wind speeds - This should be done at work height. You can use a hand-held anemometer and refer to the NFRC publication for guidance.
● Ensuring workers have had the necessary training and equipment - They should be able to recognise potential winter hazards, know the symptoms of cold exposure and have suitable personal protective equipment (PPE).
● Limiting worker exposure to the cold - Options include as job rotation, as well as providing plenty of breaks in heated areas. Having hot drinks available is also a good idea, as it will help workers warm up more quickly and keep them hydrated.

Of course, roofers must also be advocates for their own health and safety. So if you’re about to head up to a rooftop project in the winter, here are some top tips to help you avoid the seasonal hazards:

● Always ensure you’re wearing the appropriate PPE - Since light levels may be low, make sure you’re seen with reflective gear too.
● Dress for the weather - Plenty of warm layers, waterproofs and wind-resistant fabrics will all help to keep you as warm and dry as possible. Don’t forget to think about footwear too. Water-resistant shoes with slip-resistant soles, or even ice grips, may be necessary.
● Wear gloves when possible - If you’re doing a task that doesn’t require fine manual dexterity, try to keep your fingers covered, especially if the temperature drops below 4°C.
● Choose your hats carefully - Ensure that any additional headwear doesn’t interfere with safety gear like hard hats, eye protection or hearing protection.
● Remember that the cold increases the risk of hand-arm vibration syndrome - Try to keep your hands and arms warm when using equipment that vibrates.
● Know the symptoms of cold exposure and hypothermia - Be ready to recognise signs like heavy shivering, numbness, aching, severe fatigue, confusion and euphoria in yourself and your colleagues.
● Warm up and stay hydrated - Take plenty of breaks in heated areas and be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
● Report potential hazards to the site manager - Don’t put yourself or your colleagues at risk.

Give us a call for further advice on roofing safety, or explore the Marley range of roofing products including tiles, slates, shingles and shakes. 

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