Eastman Insight: How to Weather any Storm and Keep Your Jobsite Safe
July 2021 was the third-wettest July on record in New York City. Heavy rains, gusty winds, and powerful lightning made working outside challenging – especially on construction sites. In August and September, Hurricanes Henri and Ida added to the less-than-favorable weather conditions, followed by an October Nor’easter that soaked many parts of the region. With hurricane season still in full swing through November, there’s no telling what harsh weather may lie ahead.
At Eastman Cooke, our outstanding superintendents and project managers remain dedicated to achieving the highest level of safety and making sure our jobsites are prepared to withstand the toughest conditions in any season.
The Calm Before the Storm
Prior to potentially dangerous weather, Eastman Cooke staff receive alerts from Management notifying them of the risk. Many superintendents also rely on helpful apps to track inclement weather. “I use an app called MyRadar which alerts me when there is rain or snow coming, and if the National Weather Service issues any watches or warnings for our area,” explains Paul Weiss, Superintendent, Eastman Cooke. Eastman Cooke Superintendent Eugene Hermanski also recommends using MyRadar, as well as Clime: NOAA Weather Radar, to track weather conditions when needed.
“In addition to helping us track and prepare for bad weather, technology has enabled us to appropriately modify our schedules, saving time and potential damage,” explains Ray Ruggiano, Superintendent, Eastman Cooke. During his many years on the job, Ray has also relied on local newscasts to stay ahead of risky weather conditions.
In spite of useful apps and the industry’s best meteorologists, weather can often be unpredictable. “Sometimes it’s better to rely on common sense and our ability to perceive things that we see happening,” says Eastman Cooke Superintendent Philip Butkowski. His advice? “Stay calm and take appropriate actions needed to keep your team safe. And of course, “always follow OSHA standards and regulations,” he advises.
Eastman Cooke Superintendent Jonathan Gonzalez keeps an eye on the weather before the workweek starts, and recommends being mindful of dark clouds or high winds picking up. Most importantly, communication is key. Jonathan says, “Conduct daily huddles and speak with your teams’ supervisors about best practices in the event a storm is to occur.”
“Learning from experience or the experience of others will help you successfully navigate an approaching storm,” Ray points out.
One of the biggest weather challenges that construction teams face is wind. The best way to prevent accidents? “Tie down or relocate any and all loose material,” Ray advises. “Tying loose materials down to an immovable object or setting an anchor is particularly effective in shielding against flying objects which can be deadly,” Ray says.
Paul points out, “Wind is especially dangerous when working above the ground.” During high winds, Paul strongly recommends halting any work that requires the use of lifts and cranes. When securing any loose debris, Paul suggests using “a rope or tie down strap, depending on the magnitude of the winds and the materials on site.”
Jonathan relies on planks and CMU blocks to weigh down materials on windy days. But before you do anything, he says, “Scaffolding and electrical equipment should be secured first.”
Paul points out, “If erected and secured properly, scaffolding can withstand most heavy winds. However, working on the scaffolding during high winds is very dangerous and should not be attempted.”
For Eugene, “The best way to prevent wind-borne accidents is to not leave anything on the roof or setbacks of a building. That way, there is no need to secure loose items. With proper planning, this can be achieved.”
Heavy rain poses additional safety risks on construction sites. “Rain can cause flooding and damage to buildings that are not yet completed if proper precautions are not taken,” Paul says.
Another safety hazard is the potential for cave-ins. “Rain can soften the soil, which will make it weak, leading to possible collapses,” explains Michael Guarasci, Project Manager, Eastman Cooke.
This is particularly dangerous for excavation projects, which Paul advises to put on hold during heavy rains to avoid the risk of cave-ins and/or flooding.
“Excessive rain can also cause ground erosion,” Ray points out, while Jonathan warns about the possibility of mudslides and water leaks. Jonathan recommends waterproof sheathing and using plastic tarps “securely tied down with a pitch to lead the water flow to an active drain.” And when it comes to electrical equipment, Jonathan advises, “making sure all power is off before securing any wet wires.”
Managing Your Materials
Eastman Cooke superintendents recommend using weather-resistant materials wherever possible to help shield against difficult conditions. “Pressure treated lumber, galvanized and non-permeable materials are typically materials that would be used where they would be subject to being affected by the elements,” Paul says.
Jonathan advises “providing and installing weather protection in advance of a storm to keep everyone safe.” Materials can include a tightly secured tarp, plexiglass, or metal decking (safely secured).
Eastman Cooke superintendent Oscar Esquivel uses DensGlass when weatherproofing exteriors because of its ability to protect against moisture. “Tyvek is also helpful and water-resistant,” Oscar says. Philip suggests using concrete, treated wood, vinyl, DragonBoard, or waterproofing materials used as a substrate to protect against the elements.
“Certain sheetrock or plywood are exterior grade,” Ray points out, while Eugene recommends using mold- and moisture-resistant sheetrock for the entire building. “The extra money spent in the beginning saves tons down the line when you do not have to replace moisture damaged sheetrock,” he points out.
Protecting Yourself and Your Team
You’ve secured your jobsite and you’ve used all the appropriate materials. It’s equally important to protect yourself and your crew when battling harsh weather.
“During winter conditions, it is good practice to have an area that is heated and enclosed for workers to warm up and escape the elements if outside work is needed,” Paul says. “In the height of summer, be sure to provide an air-conditioned space if available, or at the very least, a shaded area such as a pop-up tent. And have plenty of water on hand,” he adds.
For Philip, continued snow and ice removal is vital during the winter, as well as “using the proper form of portable heat.” Winterizing your buildings is also important.
When it comes to attire, our superintendents agree that dressing in layers is a must in cold weather. “Multiple layers can be easily peeled off as the weather dictates,” Eugene points out.
Paul suggests wearing warm, non-restrictive clothing, while Philip recommends heated jackets and gloves, or hard hat liners.
For Jonathan, heavy construction gear works best. “If you’re working at ledges, opt for construction boots with a good grip and be sure to wear a safety harness,” he advises. “Wearing a raincoat will help keep you dry and prevent you from getting sick on the site,” he adds. Paul agrees: “In the event rain is in the forecast, always have rain gear handy.” Ray, Paul, and Oscar stress the importance of waterproof, slip-resistant boots when working at a jobsite.
When temperatures rise, Eugene recommends wearing cotton shirts to keep cool. Paul suggests wearing light-colored clothing and shaded safety glasses. He also carries a change of clothes for “unexpected weather conditions.”
Don’t Mess With Mother Nature
“There are many hazards that come with exterior work in normal conditions, but the elements can make things more difficult and uncontrollable,” Oscar says. “Flying debris, lack of visibility, and struggling to keep equipment stable on the ground are just a few of the hazards that you can face.”
Sometimes the safest thing that you can do is to not stand in the way of Mother Nature. Eugene says, “When cold and wind freeze the upper portion of a hoist, you have no choice but to stop working on those floors.”
Paul adds, “In the event of a hurricane or large snowstorm, it is always best to secure the site and stop work for that day. Not only could it be dangerous to try and work in these conditions, but the commute to and from the site cold be equally or more dangerous.”
“When workers and materials cannot make it to the jobsite, then you know it’s time to stop,” Michael says.
For more information on weather safety, check out these helpful OSHA resources:
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