It will soon be that time of year when wind speeds increase all across the U.S. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wind speeds typically increase in January, peak throughout March and April, and decrease during the summer months. The increase in wind speeds creates high wind conditions that, if not properly planned for, can potentially result in worker injury and equipment damage on job sites.
Defining High Wind Conditions
High wind conditions are often a result of straight-line winds and are different from high winds caused by a tornado. Straight-line winds can occur any time of day or night, during thunderstorms or on perfectly sunny days. These types of winds are typically sustained winds from 10 to 40 mph that can suddenly gust up to 50 mph or more at any moment.
Working in High Wind Conditions
When conditions are right for a tornado, or when lightning is present during a thunderstorm, the proper work site protocol is for workers to shut down the job and seek shelter until the danger has passed. If workers follow the protocol, they are rarely at risk. However, if a tornado isn’t expected or there is no lightning in the area, construction work usually will continue in high wind conditions, creating risk for worker injury as well as equipment damage.
There are four circumstances that present the greatest potential for worker injury and equipment damage during high wind conditions:
1. When workers are opening or closing doors on vehicles or equipment.
2. When a door is not properly secured while equipment is being operated.
3. When trailer doors are not properly secured.
4. When bare skin is exposed to cold weather.
Potential for Injury and Equipment Damage
During high wind conditions, injury to arms and legs can occur when a door is suddenly blown into a worker who is attempting to enter or exit a vehicle or piece of equipment. Injury to fingers and wrists can also occur during high wind conditions when a worker is handling the door on a piece of equipment and the door is suddenly pulled away.
Equipment trailers can be troublesome in high wind conditions as well. If a trailer’s access doors aren’t properly secured, the doors can suddenly and violently be blown open or closed, possibly striking a worker and resulting in a serious injury.
In addition to physical injury to workers, a door’s hinges and frame may be damaged during high wind conditions if the door is suddenly blown open or closed. Glass in the door may also shatter due to contact with another part of the machine.
Potential for Frostbite
High winds conditions during cold weather can be especially hazardous. While construction work often takes place in frigid temperatures, the hazards of cold stress are greatly magnified in high wind conditions. Depending on the air temperature and wind speed, damage to exposed skin – known as frostbite – can occur within minutes. Visit www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/windchill.shtml to obtain a copy of the National Weather Service Windchill Chart, which provides information about frostbite times based on air temperature and wind speed.
Preventing Injury and Equipment Damage
Take a few minutes to survey your work site for potential hazards due to high wind conditions. Discuss with crew members what can be done to eliminate or reduce the potential for injury and equipment damage, such as the following:
• Park a vehicle or piece of equipment so the wind blows against the side opposite of where workers will enter and exit.
• Pay attention to wind direction prior to exiting a vehicle or piece of equipment.
• Maintain a firm grip on the door when entering or exiting a vehicle or piece of equipment.
• Ensure the cab door and/or cab glass on the piece of equipment is properly secured when the equipment is parked or in transit.
• Take a moment to check latches and tabs on cargo storage doors to ensure they are in proper working order, and make sure the doors are firmly secured during times of high winds.
• During cold weather, make note of expected wind speeds and daytime temperatures, and use the National Weather Service Windchill Chart to determine whether or not a hazardous cold stress condition exists.
• When high wind conditions are present, or if they suddenly develop, take time to note the conditions on your tailboard and discuss with all crew members what to do to protect against the hazards these winds can create.
About the Author: Gary Coleman, CHST, CSP, CUSP, OHST, STSC, is a drilling division group safety manager for Aldridge Electric. He has more than 30 years of construction experience, with 14 years in construction safety, and holds a Master of Science degree from Northern Illinois University.
I would add that aerial lifts have limitations in high winds. Utility companies should work with the manufacturer to identify a wind speed threshold for restricting operation. Our company has restricted the use of aerial lifts in 25 MPH sustained winds.
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