2020 will be a winter like no other, with roofing contractors facing unprecedented health and safety challenges on site. As temperatures drop, Stuart Nicholson, Roof Systems Director at Marley, gives advice on how contractors can keep themselves and their workforce safe.
This year has seen contractors facing unprecedented challenges and the construction sector has worked hard to implement COVID secure procedures to ensure sites can continue to operate safely. As we head into the colder months, protecting the workforce from COVID remains the priority, but at the same time, the inherent risks of working in winter must not be overlooked.
In the winter, strong winds, freezing cold temperatures, snow, ice, and lots of rain can create major hazards on building sites, particularly for those working at height, like roofers. As well as the risk of slips and falls, prolonged exposure to the cold can cause construction workers to suffer from more colds, bronchitis, asthma, painful joints, chill blains, and fatigue. In extreme cases, workers outside for long periods without the right protection, could even suffer hypothermia and frostbite.
That’s why it is so important for roofing contractors to review their winter working policies now and make sure the usual measures they take to mitigate winter risk, are also compliant with the latest COVID site operating procedures. For example, in winter there are likely to be additional demands on welfare facilities, which could affect social distancing and there is a greater use of PPE. Self-isolation requirements are also likely to put greater pressure on workforces, alongside the regular cold and flu season.
Gary Walpole, Safety, Health and Environment Office at NFRC, told us: “It is critical that roofing contractors remain vigilant over the winter season, to help slow the spread of Covid-19 and protect their workforce. So far, construction sites have been able to remain open, despite a large part of the country being in lockdown. It is therefore critical we continue to act responsibly on-site, following the Site Operating Procedures and NFRC’s freely available Covid-19 Guidance Notes; as well as encouraging team members to self-isolate and get tested if they show any symptoms. This may prove more challenging over the winter months, so contractors should start planning to identify and mitigate any potential risks now.”
So how should contractors prepare for working this winter?
For managers / supervisors…
1. Review policies Check that your winter safety policy is compatible with the latest COVID site operating procedures from the CLC (www.constructionleadershipcouncil.co.uk) and update it if necessary. You can also refer to the NFRC guidance notes for specific information for the roofing sector (www.nfrc.co.uk/COVID-19/coronavirus).
2. Clear guidance As we head into the cold and flu season, make sure there is clear guidance about COVID symptoms and when employees are expected to self-isolate.
3Review welfare facilities to ensure there is enough capacity In winter, it is recommended that construction workers take breaks in heated areas with access to hot drinks. This means there is often greater pressure on welfare facilities, and they can become more crowded. Construction sites need to ensure there is adequate space for workers to socially distance in communal areas, so this may require the provision of more covered areas, or a review of existing rota systems.
4. Winter hazards and PPE Make sure workers are trained on winter hazards and ensure they have the appropriate PPE for the weather conditions. Re-usable PPE should be thoroughly cleaned after use and not shared between workers. Single-use PPE should be disposed of so it cannot be reused.
5. Monitor the weather forecast to anticipate and prepare for poor weather conditions Carry out a risk assessment every day to check that it is safe to work and that conditions haven’t changed. Pay particular attention to working at height platforms and do not work on roofs in icy conditions – this is a requirement of the Working at Height Regulations 2005. If it is windy, refer to the NFRC guidance note ‘roofing and cladding in windy conditions’.
1. Self-isolation If you, or any member of your household, are experiencing any COVID symptoms you must follow your company procedure, stay at home, and adhere to self-isolation rules.
2. When working on a roof in winter, make sure you wear the right PPE and extra clothing suitable for the job and weather conditions This usually involves wearing several layers of clothing, as well as waterproofs or wind resistant fabrics where necessary. Also, choose water resistant footwear, with enhanced slip resistance or ice grips if required to help prevent any slips. With reduced daylight hours, visibility can be a problem, so wear reflective PPE. Do not share PPE with anyone else.
3. Where possible, take breaks in heated areas Remember that the latest COVID guidance means you must wear a face mask in canteens except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
Drink plenty of fluids, including water and warm beverages. If you are working at a domestic property, consider taking hot drinks / food with you in a flask.
4If taking breaks in your van, follow COVID secure guidance The NFRC guidance states that if you are eating in a vehicle, then hands should be cleaned before and after eating. Surfaces and controls that have been touched should also be cleaned prior to leaving the vehicle.