Safe Working Practices For Wet Weather

Construction By Matthew Coombes

The weather has a significant impact on our working lives – it can increase risk and cause work to grind to a halt all together. In the UK, when it rains, it pours and wet weather can quickly become a hazard to health and safety.

One of the main risks to health and safety is while we are travelling, either long distances or on site, including when we travel on foot.

Travelling in wet weather

By vehicle

In the UK, when your travel is considered to be for work purposes other than commuting (visiting sites, using a vehicle on a site or carrying out deliveries, for example) it is the responsibility of your employer to conduct a risk assessment for the task and provide suitable controls that should prevent this risk from becoming an incident or accident.

Rain, storms, sleet, snow and any other type of wet weather should be something considered by any employer whose employees carry out driving for work as (especially in the UK), the weather can be unpredictable and increase risks such as:

Visibility

Whether driving a car, a crane or an excavator, visibility can be greatly reduced by rainfall, making it harder to see any roadways, other drivers or workers/pedestrians in the area. This can mean that you don’t see someone or something until it’s too late to stop.

Road surface and stopping distance – Any driver should understand that rainfall and the pools of water that it can create will increase the stopping distance of your vehicle dramatically. Stopping distance doubles in rainy conditions meaning that when driving at 60mph, your stopping distance could be around 146m.

Aquaplaning / Hydroplaning


When hitting a pool of standing water on the road whilst driving, the speed of the vehicle and depth of the pool can mean that instead of the water parting around the tyres or dispersing through gaps in the tyre tread, the water gets under the tyre and your car will essentially begin to water-ski. Unfortunately, this means that it is not possible to steer effectively, and you are at a high risk of crashing. To reduce risk of aquaplaning you need to ensure that your tyres are in good condition, with sufficient tread and that you pass through water slowly.

Stuck in the mud/flood

Flood –
Driving through floodwater is never a good idea as it can look deceptively shallow. It only takes 30cm of flowing water to move your car, 60cm of standing water will float your car and a mere egg cup of water will be enough to break your engine.

If your engine cuts out in the middle of flood water, you’re at a high risk of getting stuck, your vehicle being swept away or drowning if you attempt to swim through the flood water.

Mud –
When your vehicle becomes stuck in mud, it isn’t the mud itself that presents the risk to your health or safety, it is the implication of being stuck. If your vehicle is stuck somewhere where you are unable to get signal to call for aid, or somewhere where weather conditions are already bad, for example on an exposed hillside, it may be difficult for anyone to know where you are, and then provide you with assistance.

This could mean a long wait for help to arrive to get you unstuck, and without appropriate equipment you may get cold and become hypothermic.

Regular vehicle maintenance can help to identify issues before they become a problem, keep equipment and vehicles in good condition, and reduce the likelihood that a vehicle breaks down. In terms of wet weather there should be a consideration for:

  • Tyre condition and tread depth
  • Ensuring bulbs work
  • The condition of brakes
  • Any equipment used in emergencies
  • Windscreen wipers and wiper fluid

This includes any other relevant tasks such as regular maintenance related to the specific use of the vehicle.

A good example of this would be checking the wheel alignment for delivery vans which have to make drops in areas where parking on the curb is the only option. Repeatedly mounting the curb can be bad for the vehicle condition and is against the highway code in most situations, but it may be necessary to avoid altercations including members of the public if you were to fully block a road to drop off a parcel.

Travelling by foot


Travelling on foot in wet conditions comes with many of the same risks as travelling in a vehicle, only that people don’t need to check their windscreen wipers work. Where risk may increase is that although very durable, the human body doesn’t have internal airbags, or a crumple zone. If you’re travelling on foot in the rain and get struck by a moving vehicle, the consequences are often much worse than travelling in a vehicle.

Staying visible – Heavy rainfall or thick cloud cover can reduce the visibility at ground level greatly, and if rain is heavy enough day can essentially turn to night. It’s important that if you’re working in low visibility conditions you take measures to ensure that you can be easily seen and that people can identify that there is a worker/pedestrian in the area. This may mean high visibility clothing, or it could mean ensuring that areas are well lit by floodlights, standing lights, street lights or other.

Staying on your feet –
Wet weather can make any surface slippery and this can be especially problematic when you are regularly changing surfaces e.g. muddy boots on tarmac or wet shoes indoors. The water itself and mud and slick surfaces that it can create make slips and falls much more likely to occur.
Slips and falls from any height commonly result in bruises, sprains and sometimes broken bones. In addition, if you’re working at height or with equipment, you could slip over/under safety barriers, or drop the equipment that you are carrying/using.

Shoe tread –
Shoes with no tread or worn-down tread can be an influencing factor in slips and falls and it is important that any worker who is likely to be working in wet weather conditions is provided with appropriate footwear to reduce the likelihood of a slip or fall.

PPE


Working outside in wet weather can be both mentally taxing / demoralising and also impactful on our body. Water has a habit of flowing everywhere and the wrong type or poorly maintained RPPE/PPE can mean that while working in the rain, it’s not long before you’re entirely soaked.

Cold water can lead to short term problems moving and using the hands, reducing your dexterity and making it harder to work. This can mean that the job takes much longer, and you’re exposed to the rain for a much greater period of time. Not only this, but waterlogged boots can become a real problem when working for hours without changing them and can result in trench foot.

Ensure that PPE is appropriate for the job, and that it seals out the weather, such as making sure that all of the seams on a jacket/coat are effectively sealed/taped.


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