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Working in High Winds: The Risks and How To Mitigate Them

Posted by Xamax on 02/03/18 16:55

The weather can play a huge role in dictating whether or not it's safe to be working outdoors. Working in high winds is a risk that's less discussed but it can be just as deadly to ignore. Workers need to know the risks and hazards associated, and how best to mitigate them. Here are our tips.

Construction workers on a building site

Recently, the Unite union has called on the UK Government and HSE to toughen the laws surrounding wind regulations. Severe wind storms are highly dangerous and some gusts can be very unpredictable, blowing in suddenly and taking workers off guard. These storms are often a result of straight line winds, which is any thunderstorm wind that blows constantly between 10 and 40 mph with sudden blasts of 50MPH or more at any moment. 

What are The Risks & Hazards Associated with High Winds?

The hazards associated with high winds depends on the specific type of work and worksite. But generally, the main risks and hazards include:

  • Strains, sprains and broken bones or joints from doors and objects being forcefully pulled from the operator's hands
  • Objects being blown around and hitting workers or members of the general public
  • Slips, trips and falls due to workers reacting to objects that are falling or being blown around
  • Eye injuries due to dust and debris flying around
  • Dropped loads due to wind affecting the completion of lifts 
  • Objects (potentially heavy ones) being blown from elevated surfaces

How to Mitigate These Risks

Once you've identified the risks and potential hazards, you can begin to take precautions to make working in high winds as safe as possible. 

Secure all objects and equipment

One of the main hazards presented by high winds is that they cause objects to be lifted and blown around, which can severely injure workers and members of the general public. Last year, three workers died in Devon after their van was overturned due to high winds. A similar wind-related disaster happened last year when Storm Doris brought winds of up to 94mph to the UK and the falling debris killed multiple people. 

In order to avoid tragic accidents like these, ensure that every single object and piece of equipment, from cladding to scaffolding, has been properly secured. Thoroughly check them even if they look as though they're fixed. After all, strong winds can even uproot trees.

be prepared and stop working if it's too dangerous

Weather is an important factor when it comes to dictating what tasks can or can't be done on particular days. Make sure that you are constantly staying up to date with weather reports in order to make conditions safe for your workers. You can either check weather reports, which are readily available via social media, the internet and apps or invest in battery-powered weather radios, which continually broadcast weather information specific to your area.

Avoid certain tasks, such as working at heights and lifting heavy objects. If possible, always try and take the tasks indoors where it will be safer. If weather reports indicate highly dangerous and strong gales, then cease all outdoor work immediately. The wind makes it more difficult to hear so workers might not hear vehicles coming towards them. Plus, the disrupted centre of gravity and the speed of the winds will not only make it difficult for machinery to be operated and dangerous for the workers, but it may also damage the equipment. 

never react to falling or dropped objects

The wind can easily blow objects away, particularly light objects such as hard hats and sheeting. It becomes even more dangerous when high winds are involved because they can blow heavier objects such as machinery or even trucks (though, hopefully, your site will be closed at this point).

Ensure you or workers never attempt to pick up, catch or adjust dropped or falling objects, even if they're light items such as hats and jackets. In that second that you're distracted, you might miss something flying towards you or you might be on an elevated surface and risk injuries or worse due to falling. 

And for lightweight but large items, such as damp proof membranes and other sheeting, ensure everyone involved is reminded to let go if a gust gets up as they can be enormous wind traps. Even the most experienced site worker's instinct can take over and try to keep hold of a rogue ground sheet, which can result in a strained or dislocated shoulder.  Or worse if they're picked up off the ground.

always wear the necessary safety gear

Your workers should already be wearing the appropriate safety gear and equipment, but this becomes even more vital in dangerous weather conditions. Anyone who is working at heights should always be wearing safety harnesses that are securely fastened. Strong winds can blow people working at height to the side or even off the equipment, which makes it even more important for secured safety harnesses. 

Wind also means dust and debris can be flying around, which can easily cause injury. Ensure that your workers are always wearing the necessary outdoor safety items such as eye protection and hats as well as ensuring your site is dampened down during dry spells in order to minimise dust in the air

Keep Your Workers Safe in Spring

High winds, like all of the other severe weather conditions, can present dangerous working situations for your outdoor employees. There are many other factors you should also consider if you want to keep your employees safe and happy. To make sure you've got all the bases covered, we have a Spring Workwear Buying Guide which outlines the average seasonal temperatures in the UK, the possible risks and hazards and how best to clothe your workers in order to defend them against the elements. Download your FREE copy here. 

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Topics: Safety, Outdoor Workwear