Hurricane season typically puts coastal states on alert because catastrophic weather can cause property damage and disrupt communities for months. People who earn a living in the construction trades face economic and workplace hazards unique to their sector. The stunning devastation of communities from Louisiana, all the way into the Northeast, suffered at the hands of Hurricane Ida delivering a hard lesson that severe weather safety for construction workers is not restricted to coastal areas.
Industry leaders need a hurricane preparedness plan for construction site safety and restoration that involves tracking, security, and a stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as disposable clothing for cleanup. Given that the year-over-year weather forecasts predict no end to hurricane seasons, and returning workers face increased health and safety risks, construction firms would be wise to take proactive measures.
NOAA Hurricane Forecast for 2021
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) anticipated the number of 2021 named storms would rise slightly above average without approaching the record pace set in 2020. Predictions indicated a 60 percent chance the hurricane season would reach the higher end of the 15-21 named storms, and 7-10 hurricanes averaged annually. With only a 10 percent chance the season finishes below average, Hurricane Ida made landfall near Louisiana along the Gulf Coast, disrupting power and supply chains. After trekking across the country, it wreaked havoc in the Northeast, causing widespread flooding. In terms of preparing for the devastation that occurs when massive storms make landfall, the NOAA breaks hurricanes into five categories.
- Category 1: Winds range between 74-95 mph and result in damage to existing buildings. This typically involves roofs, shingles, and siding torn from homes and commercial buildings. Tree branches often break off, power lines may be downed, and outages last a few days to a week in some cases.
- Category 2: Winds range from 96-110 mph, causing widespread damage. Well-built residential and commercial buildings sustain modest damage. Poorly constructed ones may suffer structural damage. Weeks of regional power losses generally occur as small trees are uprooted, and large branches snap off.
- Category 3: Winds run between 111-129 mph, and the frames of even reasonably well-constructed homes and commercial buildings may give way. The intense winds can tear cables away from structures, fallen trees block roads, and widespread power outages can last weeks. The heightened intensity of Category 3 storms often leaves residents without water.
- Category 4: With winds peaking at 130-156 mph, even well-constructed framed homes suffer substantial damage. Roofs may be torn off, and exterior walls are known to collapse. Fallen trees and downed electrical poles typically cause weeks, if not months, of power outages, as well as lengthy disruption of food and water supplies.
- Category 5: When winds exceed 157 mph, catastrophic damage should be anticipated. A high volume of residential and frame-built commercial buildings are likely to be destroyed or significantly damaged. Entire regions lose power and access to clean drinking water for months.
Although construction companies that operate along the Gulf Coast and other high-risk areas are acutely aware of the dangers hurricanes and tropical storms bring, Ida teaches a valuable lesson. Storms can seemingly change trajectory after making landfall and severely impact communities more than a thousand miles away. That’s why construction firms everywhere would be well-served to craft a plan to batten down the hatches anytime a severe weather event occurs.
Hurricane Preparedness Plan for Construction Site Safety
Existing buildings enjoy all the structural supports required by building codes. This facet gives residential homes and commercial buildings a reasonable opportunity to withstand the strong winds presented by many Category 1-3 storms. The same cannot be said of buildings under construction when a severe weather event occurs.
Incomplete projects and those leveraging only temporary support systems remain at increased risk. Loose building materials can quickly turn into potentially deadly projectiles. Structures that are not fully enclosed typically suffer water damage and the hazards associated with moisture such as mold growth. Coastal storm surge and flooding that result from torrential downpours, even as hurricanes are downgraded, can severely impact low-lying areas. Full basement construction becomes swamped, crawlspaces muddied, and block pier footings may sink, resulting in a building shifting or toppling altogether.
The reasons to implement a hurricane preparedness plan for construction site safety are wide-reaching. That’s why decision-makers in the construction sector would be wise to consider a hurricane preparedness plan that includes the following.
Create Hurricane Preparedness Team
It’s essential for company leaders to tap a trusted employee to put together a select group tasked with severe weather preparedness. This team may require additional training and awareness regarding the imminent threat high winds, torrential downpours, and flash flooding can present. Each team member needs to understand their defined roles, responsibilities, and how to enlist other workers to complete them effectively. By delegating the following duties, construction sites are better prepared, sustain fewer financial losses, and avoid unnecessary employee injuries.
Develop A Hurricane Preparedness Checklist
Construction sites differ significantly in terms of materials, landscape, scope, and project phase. For these and other reasons, it may be prudent to put an experienced supervisor in charge of site-specific checklists. However, projects usually require team members to manage the following to increase safety and resume operations after the threat passes.
- Secure building materials in place or utilize a more secure storage facility
- Call suppliers and delay additional deliveries
- Secure generators and other necessary equipment
- Take down scaffolding and elevation systems
- Acquire and protect adequate fuel supplies
- Put enhanced structural supports and braces in place
- Stockpile water supplies and recharge all lithium-ion batteries
- Consider trenching to reroute floodwaters away from the construction site
It’s also important to have someone track the pathway of a potentially approaching storm and follow severe weather alerts for the area. Pertinent information to gather involves wind speeds, anticipated rainfall, temperatures, and whether your construction site is located in a flood plain or low-lying area. A hurricane preparedness plan for construction site safety allows companies to minimize losses, injuries, and remain better positioned to return to the job site after the hurricane or tropical storm passes.
Severe Weather Safety for Construction Workers Returning to Project Sites
Depending on the severity of the storm, road conditions, and other factors, returning to a job site could take days or weeks in some cases. Surveying the impact of the severe weather event as quickly as is safely possible and taking proactive measures to minimize damage should be weighed against possible health and safety hazards. Severe weather safety for construction workers doesn’t stop once the rainfall ends. In many cases, worker safety is just beginning. These rank among the critical safety concerns a well-thought-out hurricane preparedness plan considers.
- Have a safety manager identify threats before workers return
- Bring in hazardous materials experts in the event of chemical spills
- Keep a safety manager in place as workers perform restoration tasks
- Provide clean drinking water and unaffected food sources to workers
- Cleanup and dispose of damaged materials in compliance with safety standards
One of the critical safety requirements construction companies must adhere to following storm devastation involves the use of PPE. After powerful winds and intense rainfall occurs, building materials, chemical agents, sewage, and other contaminants are routinely displaced. Even when secured in the best possible fashion before the storm hits, there’s no telling what lies beneath the dirt, mud, and building materials. It’s also important to note that the construction site may have been compromised by materials and products that originated more than a mile away. That’s why enhanced safety precautions and industry-certified PPE are necessary for workplace safety following a hurricane.
Appropriate Severe Weather PPE for Returning Construction Workers
Returning workers typically do not possess a viable point of reference to implement cleanup and restoration duties safely. The construction site they left after battening down the hatches, so to speak, may bear little resemblance after Category 3 or higher hurricanes leave the area. Common PPE such as hard hats, steel-shank boots, and other construction standards may fall short of the mark. The following additional PPE and disposable protective clothing is advisable.
- Gloves: Common leather work gloves may not deliver the enhanced protections needed following a catastrophic weather event. While protruding nails and hidden sharp objects remain a risk, unseen toxins may also be present. Chemicals from the job site or nearby facilities routinely get displaced.
- Eye Protection: Construction workers generally use protective eyewear when cutting, grinding, and welding. The uncertain nature of a post-hurricane construction site increases the risk that loose materials could seriously injure a worker’s vision.
- Coveralls: It may seem counterintuitive to the everyday builder, but the coveralls and chemical-resistant disposable clothing worn in manufacturing settings deliver enhanced protections during construction site cleanup. Mud, unsanitary water, and other harmful liquids can get on skin or be absorbed through cloth workwear. Safety certified protective clothing remains essential.
- Breathable Masks: There’s no telling what airborne agents have compromised the construction site. Experienced construction professionals understand that hazardous mold growths spread quickly on materials in moist, warm spaces. Breathing in spores during cleanup and restoration duties remains a proven health and wellness danger.
The need for construction sector leaders to stockpile disposable personal protective clothing in addition to OSHA-mandated PPE cannot be understated. Once severe weather events occur, supply chain disruptions typically result, and last-minute orders cannot be filled. A hurricane preparedness plan for construction site restoration must include an adequate and ongoing supply of protective clothing and PPE. Severe weather safety for construction workers doesn’t end when the high winds trail off, and the floodwaters subside. Construction firms need to be prepared for post-hurricane dangers.
Whether you own or operate a construction business in a high-risk coastal state or inland, Hurricane Ida proves no one is immune to catastrophic weather events. International Enviroguard produces a complete line of disposable protective clothing that exceeds industry standards. Contact us with questions about how we can outfit your team with safe storm response and floodwater PPE.