Workplace safety is a year-round priority for the construction industry, but the holiday season can bring an entirely new set of concerns. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to secure your worksite and ensure that everyone makes it safely home to their families to celebrate. We’ve put together some simple holiday season safety guidelines to help you and your employees make it through the season with good cheer and without incident.
The most common causes of workplace holiday accidents
Depending on your location, the holidays can mean cold temperatures and short days. It gets dark early and any precipitation can quickly turn into a traction hazard. Not only is nature working against you, but many people also become less attentive to road conditions as they are distracted during the festive season.
Workers may be looking forward to family gatherings, traveling more on their downtime or experiencing an increase in stress. Financial problems are twice as noticeable when you have a family and presents just aren’t in the budget. Many people also experience depression during the holiday season, which can lead to behavioral changes. And, often, alcohol use increases, creating another reason for concern when it comes to workplace safety.
How to keep your workplace safe this season
With so many potential issues and hazards facing their employees, wise employers often take special precautions to make sure that everyone gets through the holidays in a healthy and happy way. Here’s how you can do just that.
Increase employee safety awareness
Everyone loves a good toolbox talk, especially when you add seasonal snacks into the mix! Schedule regular safety meetings to update winter weather policies and to let everyone know of any procedural changes that might arise as a result of inclement conditions. During this time, really take note of the behaviors and attitudes of your employees. These can be your first clue that someone is feeling overworked or struggling to keep up with the demands of the season.
Prepare for weather changes
A drop in temperature needs to be carefully monitored. Heavy equipment may have to work harder to keep up when it gets extremely cold, and lower temperatures can make concrete, asphalt, and other components harder to work with, requiring additional training. Read up on best practices for winter operation of the machinery and equipment that you use.
Machinery isn’t the only concern, though. The worksite itself needs to be kept free from ice and snow. Heavy equipment without appropriate traction is like a very costly bull in an even-more-expensive china shop. And all it takes is one hidden patch of ice to put someone in the hospital. This sad result can be avoided by carefully monitoring the weather, inspecting the worksite before, during, and after each shift, and taking appropriate safety actions as needed. There are plenty of products that can safely melt ice on the worksite without damaging the equipment or project.
Again—and we can’t stress this enough—keep your employees in the loop. Include weather-related red flags that they need to report in your toolbox talk, and teach them how to respond in these situations.
Adapt your safety gear
Big, bulky coats may not allow for freedom of movement on the worksite; employees working in cold-weather conditions might also be tempted to throw an additional layer or two over part of their safety vest. To avoid these hazards, consider adding a spot in the budget for cold-weather construction gear for employees. This is outerwear that’s worksite compliant, insulated and a heck of a lot more efficient than the standard long johns.
Hard hat liners are also a nice addition to a worksite winter wardrobe. They may not win any fashion awards, but you and your employees will be comfortable, safe, and—most importantly—OSHA compliant.
Pay active attention to your employees
The holidays aren’t a festive time for everyone. Some people may feel overwhelmed or depressed, miss family members, or try to push themselves too hard in order to earn a little extra gift money. Because of this, it’s even more important to pay attention to your employees’ behaviors and appearances. Offer options to reduce holiday stress where possible.
If an employee looks run down or has been working as many back-to-back shifts as you’ll allow, consider taking them aside and reminding them that it’s okay to slow down. Some companies even have a psychologist on staff in their human resource department and this can be an extremely helpful tool.
Someone who’s exhausted trying to use heavy equipment is nearly as bad as someone operating it while impaired (and in fact, if they are too exhausted, they may actually be considered to be impaired under the law). Always err on the side of caution!
Take additional precautions to keep employees comfortable during the colder season, as well. This means allowing more frequent breaks, offering shorter shifts and knowing when to shut down due to freezing conditions. It can also be beneficial to introduce a winter checklist that includes any new daily procedures to protect employees, machinery and the worksite from inclement weather conditions.
Don’t choose dangerous decorations
While many of us don’t consider our inflatable Santa to be a threat, Christmas decorations can create unnecessary risks on the worksite. It’s fun to be festive and some employers make this mistake with good intentions, but too often it ends very badly. Use common sense and keep decorations worksite-friendly.
Properly secure any outdoor lights
Anything hanging freely near a worksite is a hazard. Not only can employees and machinery end up catching on wires, but poorly hung lights can also pose a fire risk. This doesn’t mean that you can’t bring a little holiday cheer to the worksite. Just take extra precautions to ensure that lights won’t pose a fire hazard and that they are securely attached at close intervals. Turn them off overnight, particularly those hung in trees.
Prepare for seasonal workers
The holidays can be an extremely busy time for many industries. People want to finish projects before they break for the holidays and cities often request seasonal services as well. This time of year also means that workers may need to take additional time off for personal or family reasons. There are instances when hiring seasonal workers can help to offset your losses and allow your company to keep up with production. Take time to adequately train and prepare temporary employees[a][b], both for the jobs they will be doing and for any seasonal considerations. It may take a little longer to get them started, but it’s worth it to prevent workplace incidents.
Remember, staying safe is the most important thing this season
The majority of workplace incidents are caused by human error. Making sure that employees are well rested and prepared to do their jobs is essential to keeping everyone safe. For more valuable information on worksite safety, reach out to the professionals at SafetyTek. Happy holidays!