Working in Extreme Temperatures

Risk Mitigation

This week, we welcome a guest blogger, Curt Westrick, who is a senior risk engineering consultant with The Zurich Services Corporation. Here, he shares suggestions for contractor clients to consider when preparing to work in freezing temperatures.

How is extreme cold defined? The answer often depends on where a person lives (consider, for instance, the difference between temperate Florida and North Dakota). Other factors, such as wind chill and humidity, may also play a significant role.

Regardless of a particular definition, one thing is certain: prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can cause serious problems. Whether it’s the physical effects like trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia, or damage to equipment in temperatures cooler than it’s made for, the cold can be brutal. In order to combat these effects, agents should encourage clients to create cold weather plans for the icy winter months.

Clients should implement such plans whenever the temperatures are expected to drop below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or zero degrees Celsius), especially when those artic blasts cause the outside temperature to plunge into the single digits or negative degrees Fahrenheit. Employee exposures, ice removal, snow removal, temporary heat and freeze protection are just a few of the exposures construction clients need to consider.

Preparation is key to ensure safety and relative comfort when working in extreme cold. There are some basic safety controls that should be included in a cold weather plan, such as: 

  • Covering all exposed skin
  • Maintaining dry hands and feet using water-wicking base layers and water-repellant outer layers
  • Taking frequent breaks to warm up as needed
  • Staying hydrated to help regulate body temperature

Crane and rigging operations can also be severely hampered by extreme cold weather. Some cranes are only rated to function down to freezing temperatures, and operating them below freezing often requires special “cold weather” packages or setups to be installed on the crane or the capacity rating may need to be reduced. Each crane manufacturer is different, so crane operation and maintenance manuals should be reviewed to identify what restrictions the equipment may have.

Contractors erecting structural steel and installing/aligning large steel equipment may find extremely cold weather prohibitive to progress. Not only is it difficult to handle steel in the cold, but the metal expands as it warms, making alignment even more challenging.

Winter can be a beautiful time of the year, but preparation is necessary for a positive experience. Just like a skier suiting up in layer upon layer of warm and protective gear to hit the slopes, with the right preparations, your clients should be able to enjoy the outdoors for work or play, all in warm and safe circumstances.

For more information on cold weather preparedness, see Zurich’s Winter Hazard Control Program.

About the Guest Blogger

Curt Westrick HeadshotCurt Westrick is a Senior Risk Engineering Consultant with The Zurich Services Corporation specializing in loss prevention for builders risk, erection all risk, and contractors all risk policy holders. Curt is also a member of the NFPA 241 Technical Committee on the Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration and Demolition Operations.      



The information in this publication was compiled from sources believed to be reliable for informational purposes only. All sample policies and procedures herein should serve as a guideline, which you can use to create your own policies and procedures. We trust that you will customize these samples to reflect your own operations and believe that these samples may serve as a helpful platform for this endeavor. Any and all information contained herein is not intended to constitute advice (particularly not legal advice). Accordingly, persons requiring advice should consult independent advisors when developing programs and policies. We do not guarantee the accuracy of this information or any results and further assume no liability in connection with this publication and sample policies and procedures, including any information, methods or safety suggestions contained herein. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any of this information, whether to reflect new information, future developments, events or circumstances or otherwise.  Moreover, Zurich reminds you that this cannot be assumed to contain every acceptable safety and compliance procedure or that additional procedures might not be appropriate under the circumstances.  The subject matter of this publication is not tied to any specific insurance product nor will adopting these policies and procedures ensure coverage under any insurance policy.

© 2017 The Zurich Services Corporation.  All rights reserved.


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