Dec 9, 2022

Contractor Management: How to Stay Safe in the Winter

Key Takeaways

- Winter weather presents new challenges for contractors

- Frostbite, hypothermia, and colds are all common risks that workers and organizations must account for

- Contractors can stay safe in severe temperatures through different initiatives such as:

- Monitoring the weather

- Wearing appropriate clothing

- Maintaining worksites

- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine

- Maintaining optimum temperatures for equipment and machinery

As the winter season comes in at full effect many of us are getting ready to stay bundled up and warm. Depending on where you live in the world, your winter season may be harsher than others. While snowy days and hot beverages may be pleasant experiences to look forward to, cold climates pose a new set of challenges that businesses must account for and overcome.

What does winter mean for contractor management? Oftentimes, contractors will operate in worksites situated in the great outdoors. For example, a construction site for a new residential development. Now, contractors and their hiring organizations are expected to make the proactive changes necessary to gear themselves and their worksites for a cold few months. Depending on the severity of the climate, the coming months will bring with them a number of real but easily manageable risks.

This article will detail the most common risks seen at worksites in the winter, what proactive steps contractors can take to ensure their safety, and subsequently, what hiring organizations can do to prepare their workforce and worksites for a cold winter.

Common Winter Risks:

Falling ill from weather changes:

- It’s no secret that different bacterias and viruses thrive in different temperatures, and winter is no exception to that rule. Oftentimes, people may find themselves catching colds and flus in colder months as their body acclimatizes to new temperatures.


- Frostbite is defined as medical injury to human skin and underlying tissue typically caused by subzero temperatures, specifically under -15°. If you work in areas with exceptionally harsher climates such as the east coast and Canada, frostbite is a real threat that you must account for.


- Hypothermia occurs when you are experiencing exceptionally low body temperatures in which your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. It is especially dangerous as it affects your brain’s processing ability, so victims of hypothermia may not know that they’re experiencing it until later.

Now that we’ve identified the three primary risks associated with working in the winter, let’s move on to outlining how contractors can effectively safeguard their workers from exposure to the cold.

How Contractors Can Stay Safe:

It goes without saying that the first line of defense in the winter is simply just keeping yourself warm, but for contractors on a worksite, that can mean a lot of different things. Here are a few ways that you and your workers can safeguard yourselves:

Monitor the weather:

- If you are in a management role, it is your responsibility to ensure that you keep a constant pulse on weather forecasts to ensure that workers are not at worksites under severe circumstances such as rain, thunderstorms, and snowstorms, especially if your worksite is outdoors. Before contractors come onsite, check the weather forecast to ensure that workers will not face issues arriving to or leaving the location, and will not face any risk from the outdoors during operations.

Wear appropriate clothing:

- Contractors should wear warm clothing at all times, including their PPE. Along with the season change, determine what gear needs to be switched out for more weather appropriate clothing. For example, high visibility vests will need to be traded in for high visibility parkas. Furthermore, PPE will have to account for not just workplace risks, but also the risks associated with working under a colder climate. For example, hard hats in the winter provide protection against icicles falling from above. To take it a step further, consider lining existing gear (such as hard hats) with heat retaining materials to keep workers comfortable.

Maintain worksites:

- Just the average snow day can change a lot in how we operate, so imagine the implications that a snowstorm can bring on. Both when closing and opening up your worksite, you must inspect for any hazards that might’ve formed and then mitigate any present risks. Ensure that you clear snow from stairs and railings, inspect all electrical components of the worksite and check for damage (i.e, faulty power lines), salt ice on walkways and other exposed areas, and ensure that all equipment is in good working order.

Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks:

- Alcohol and caffeinated drinks should be limited or flat out avoided in a bid to keep yourself healthy and safe in colder seasons. For starters, no worker should be consuming alcohol during work under any circumstances, and the effects of alcohol during the winter have direct consequences to your body temperature. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee also reduce your body’s ability to retain heat, so ensure that if you must consume caffeine, do so in moderation and try to limit the amount.

Maintain the correct temperature for equipment:

- The machinery and equipment present at a worksite are not exempt to the effects of temperature. If you use vehicles at your job, ensure that engines are warmed up prior to using them, the same goes for any other heavy machinery that requires a contractor to operate it. If your worksite requires the use of liquids such as motor oils, identify whether they are safe to use at different temperatures. If not, take the necessary precautions such as warming them up, or replacing them altogether depending on the specific requirements.

Of all the initiatives to keep contractors safe in the winter, none are able to truly come to fruition without an efficient safety management system. If safety is not top of mind for everyone, that same mindset will be carried into the winter season where more hazards present themselves. In addition to implementing best practices to keep your contractors safe, get your program in order by using contractor management software to monitor, track, and propel your organization into compliance.

About the Author

Addison Moore
Director of Marketing at Contractor Compliance

Addison has spent the last four years learning from and participating in the Health & Safety community. He has travelled to numerous EHS conferences, trade shows and events with the intention of helping organizations with their contractor management programs. Addison is also responsible for curating the collection of white papers, case studies and eBooks that provide real world insights into the workforce safety space.

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