Jobsite Heating Devices

Originally published 12/2/2015

We commonly use temporary heaters on construction jobsites during winter months. When we use them correctly, heaters make our work environment more comfortable and safe. However, when we use them incorrectly, they can add a significant level of risk to an already dangerous environment, as they can to start fires and lead to explosions.

You should always inspect heaters prior to operating them. We use them seasonally and often store them for long periods of time. When we move a heater from one location to another, we may damage it, so look closely for telltale signs before and during initial use.

Before using any space heater or other temporary heating device, make sure the manufacturer approves it for the environment in which you intend to use it. Manufacturers make portable heating devices specifically for construction sites. The manufacturer’s specifications should explain how and where you may safely use the heater.

Make sure there is adequate ventilation in the room where you place the heater, and provide mechanical ventilation when there’s an inadequate natural fresh air supply.

Ask these questions when you’re selecting a heater:

  • Is the unit approved for direct contact with the floor/surface on which you plan to use it?
  • Does the unit consume oxygen?
  • Does it radiate heat and/or force heated air across the room?

Things to keep in mind when you’re using a heater:

  • Although the heater might not look hot, it could severely burn you if you touch it.
  • If a manufacturer hasn’t approved a heater’s use on wood (or other combustible material) surfaces, don’t use it there. You must place this type of heater on suitable heat-insulating material, such as one-inch concrete masonry blocks. Establish a safe perimeter that extends beyond the heater in all directions.
  • Place temporary heaters a safe distance from all combustible materials, such as tarpaulins, trash, wood or similar materials. Secure the materials to prevent wind from moving them closer to the heater.
  • Manufacturers intend for you to use most temporary heating devices in a horizontal position. Unless the manufacturer permits it, don’t attempt to use them otherwise.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby, so it will be available immediately in the event of a fire.

Prevent accidents and injuries from occurring, plan for heater use and ensure you have sound safety procedures in place. Consider the jobsite’s conditions and requirements before selecting a temporary heater. Make sure all workers are aware of the heaters, and instruct them on how to use heaters safely. Always follow the manufacturer’s specifications.

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Be Prepared for Cold Weather

It’s getting colder, and winter is just around the corner. Now is the time to think about the extra safety precautions you need to take during the winter months, whether driving or working on the jobsite.

Check out these tips for driving in winter weather:

  • Give yourself extra time to drive to work.
  • Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses. Remember that they will freeze first.
  • Drive defensively. Watch out for drivers who may be driving too fast for road conditions, or who may have lost control of their vehicle.
  • Measure the low-temperature protection provided by the antifreeze in your vehicle to avoid frozen radiator and hoses.
  • Keep an ice scraper, shovel, jumper cables, a blanket and some sand, kitty litter or traction mats in your vehicle.
  • Check the tread on your tires. If it’s less than one-eighth of an inch, consider replacing the tires.
  • Check the air tanks on your truck, and make sure liquid isn’t building up. During winter months, air brake lines could freeze because the air tanks weren’t drained. Driving a truck under these conditions is very dangerous.

Dress for working in cold weather:

  • Wear layers of clothing. Many layers of thin garments trap heat better than a few thick ones. You can always remove a layer if you get warmer.
  • Wear a liner in your hard hat.
  • Wear headbands or hooded jackets to protect your ears.
  • Keep clothes clean and dry.
  • Wear water-resistant boots.
  • Wear windproof outer layers.
  • Wear cotton close to the body.
  • Wear gloves with liners, if possible.
  • Wear an extra pair of socks for added warmth.
  • Make sure your safety vest is clean and in good repair. As the days get shorter, early low-light conditions make it very difficult for passing drivers, equipment operators and other co-workers to see you.

When possible, consider taking additional precautions against cold weather:

  • Take breaks in warm areas.
  • Use approved warming devices. Be cautious of carbon monoxide buildup when you are indoors.
  • Use the buddy system, and check on each other regularly.
  • Be cautious of ice buildup on the jobsite. Slip and fall injuries can occur suddenly.
  • Schedule work to avoid being exposed to high-wind conditions.
  • Work with your back to the wind.

The best time to prepare for the cold is before you are exposed. Think ahead, and be prepared for changing conditions. Following these steps can lessen your chances of an accident or injury.

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Fall Driving Hazards

Originally published 10/25/2016

Most construction companies have a safety goal of “everybody goes home safe” and “come to work safe.” This motto encompasses driving to and from work as well as any driving performed while on the job.

Many people think that the most dangerous season for driving is the winter. However, a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Safety Institute in Ann Arbor revealed that the most dangerous season for driving is actually fall. The study discovered that the danger of dying in a car crash is 16 percent greater in October than in March. With the most dangerous driving season up on us, here are some key factors to consider.

  • Leaves – as leaves begin to fall, there are several things to think about.
    • Wet leaves are slippery and can reduce traction.
    • They can cover the yellow and white pavement markings on the road making it difficult to determine shoulder and lane widths.
    • They can get clogged under wiper blades, impeding wiper performance and visibility.
    • Parking too close to a leaf pile can be a fire hazard with catalytic converters.
  • Deer – deer collisions are most common in fall due to mating season, hunting season and the reduced hours of daylight.
    • Pay attention to deer crossing signs. They were put there for a reason. These areas have had high rates of car/deer collisions.
    • If a collision is unavoidable, hit the deer. This is safer than skidding off the road into trees and ditches.
    • Be aware that deer sometimes retrace their steps. They will cross the road, then cross back over in the same spot.
    • If you see one deer, be prepared for others. They usually travel in groups.
  • Farm Machinery – farmers harvesting will be on the roads.
    • Watch for slow-moving vehicles. A slow-moving vehicle sign is a reflective orange triangle with a red border. It warns other drivers that the vehicle displaying the sign is traveling at 25 mph or less.
    • Make sure the drivers of farm vehicles can see you.

Other fall driving hazards include:

  • Frozen bridges – Bridges freeze before the rest of the road because they are exposed to weather on both the top and the bottom. Use caution when transitioning from the pavement to a bridge surface.
  • Black Ice – Use extreme caution when driving on cold mornings where there is evidence of frozen moisture on the roadway.
  • Rain – Early fall storms are worse from a driver’s perspective because highways have a summers worth of oil and rubber buildup on the road and can become extremely slick when suddenly soaked.
  • Hydroplaning – If you feel like you are hydroplaning, steer straight and gently back off the throttle until you feel the tires make contact with the road.
  • Fog – This is statistically the single-most dangerous condition a driver can encounter. In dense fog, turn on your low beam headlamps, slow down to a crawl if necessary, and use extreme caution.

Winter months are synonymous with cautious driving. However, being cautious in every season could save a life.

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Working Safely in Windy Conditions

Strong winds can occur any time of the year. To prevent unnecessary workplace injuries and tragedies, it’s important that construction workers know the appropriate measures to take to ensure their safety and that of others on the work site.

Working at heights is especially risky in high winds because the lack of shelter exposes workers to stronger gusts that can throw the worker off balance. The further the distance to the ground, the greater the likelihood that a fall will be fatal.

When working above the ground, unsupported structures can collapse. High winds can pick up sparks from fires or blow tools, loose materials and debris around, endangering workers as well as bystanders and pedestrians.

The following guidelines can help ensure the safety of those on your work site.

  1. Monitor weather conditions continuously. Do not schedule work at elevations on days where high winds are forecast.
  2. Support partially built structures regardless of the weather conditions and make sure walls are adequately braced.
  3. Secure scaffolding and other temporary structures so they cannot be blown over.
  4. Secure traffic control devices so they don’t blow over.
  5. Keep a clean work site. Don’t leave cones, signage and other loose materials laying around and unsecured. A gust of wind could pick up a scrap of material and send it flying.
  6. Wear eye protection to keep dust, debris and other foreign particles from blowing into the eyes.
  7. Make sure that your hard hat is securely fastened and cannot be blown off your head.
  8. Use extreme caution when handling large signs and stop/slop paddles, as these can act as a sail.
  9. Use taglines when hoisting loads with large flat surfaces.
  10. Cease all crane operations until wind speeds return to acceptable levels.

Weather is a major factor when determining when a task can or cannot be done on a construction site. When high winds are going to be present, plan accordingly. There will be some tasks you will need to avoid all together, and others that can be done if extra safeguards are put into place.


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Winter Work Safety

Each season brings its own set of hazards for construction workers. As we enter the winter season, be especially mindful of the weather, its effects on the body and proper actions to prevent serious injury, permanent tissue damage or even death.

Low temperatures, high winds, dampness and cold water can contribute to cold-related stress on your body. Wearing inadequate or wet clothing increases the effects of cold on the body. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and some medications inhibit the body’s response to the cold and can impair judgement.

Fatigue, nausea, confusion, lightheadedness and profuse sweating are symptoms of hypothermia. Exposed skin can start to freeze at just 28F causing frostbite. Deep frostbite can cause blood clots and even gangrene.

Following are several tips to consider while working outdoors during the winter months:

  • Keep your body temperature at or about normal (98.6F). This can be accomplished by wearing layers of clothing.
  • Wear cotton or lightweight wool fabrics next to your skin. Add layers when you are cold, remove layers when hot.
  • Keep your clothing as dry as possible. Protect your clothing as needed by wearing rain gear and other durable garments. Keep an extra pair of socks handy so you can change them as needed. You may also want to consider investing in waterproof footwear.
  • Protect your head, neck and ears. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed.
  • Wear the right gloves for the work you are doing. They should have enough insulation to keep you warm and prevent frostbite, but thin enough so you can feel what you are doing if you are manipulating controls or tools.
  • Keep your safety eyewear from fogging up in the cold. Use anti-fog coatings and wipes that are appropriate for your eyewear.

If your skin becomes discolored and it appears that circulation has been limited, then you are probably experiencing the early stages of frostbite. If this occurs, find a way to immediately start warming that particular part of the body. Tips for treating frostbite include:

  • When possible, go indoors or to a warmer area to prevent further exposure.
  • Never rub or massage the affected body part.
  • Never use hot water. You should gradually warm the frostbitten area by immersing it in lukewarm water.
  • If blisters develop, cover them with a bandage or gauze to prevent them from opening and becoming infected.
  • Refrain from smoking as it slows down the circulation of blood to the extremities.
  • Avoid caffeine. It constricts blood vessels.
  • When normal feeling, movement and skin color have returned, the area affected should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm.
  • If the condition does not improve, seek professional medical attention.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. Prepare in advance, observe safety precautions and reduce your risk of weather-related injury.

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