How to stay warm/cool on a construction job

Published Thursday 13th August 2015

With the ever-changing and unpredictable British weather, we know it can be hard to judge how to prepare for the right temperature.

As it’s better to be safe than sorry, we explore some easy ways you can manage the temperature in your workplace, so you can carry on with your day in a safe and comfortable environment.

construction siteWorking outdoors

When working outdoors, the effects of the weather can potentially have a serious impact on your health, if the risks have not been considered or properly managed. Following these tips will not only help you and others to work safely and comfortably, it will reduce sick days and boost productivity on the construction site.

While there currently is no law that states a maximum temperature, HSE advises that temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius, or 13 degrees Celsius if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to construction sites, where the majority of work takes place outside. While we’ll set out some examples of how to manage the temperature at your place of work, HSE outlines some simple examples for outdoor working here.

In extreme cases, where temperatures are really high or very low, HSE advises that working habits and current practices should be reviewed periodically and (where necessary) changed, to control the risks – such as heat stress, dehydration or cold stress.

So let’s get started:

Keep your cool

While the sun rarely has its hat on in Britain – you can never be too careful over the summer period, when scorching temperatures and sunburn may sneak up on you. So we’ve outlined ways you can tackle the rays and make sure you keep cool on the job.

Evaporative bands: Evaporative cooling neckbands, headbands, wristbands and even vests are a great addition to your work uniform. These items all have some crystals in them and after being soaked in water they begin to keep you cool as the water they hold evaporates over time – and you can reuse them over and over again.

Sweat Bands: Standard sweatbands are also a great work accessory. They mop up the sweat and help keep you cool. As an extra bonus, some models can even attach to the webbing of your hard hat – for extra safety. Similar to the evaporative bands, sweatbands also come with the crystals that can provide up to ten hours of cooling from one soaking.

builders tan

Water: One of the best ways to control heat stress at work is to keep hydrated. It’s important to replace body fluids lost during sweating, so make sure you have plenty of fluids available. Keep in mind that, if you feel thirsty, you’re already about two percent dehydrated. And once you are dehydrated, it's difficult to make up for it.

Sunscreen: Equally important and something neglected by most construction workers is the use of sunscreen. Not only will it avoid those ‘dodgy’ builder-tans, sunscreen will prevent the risk of skin cancer. Jewson highlighted the dangers in its recent Sun Awareness campaign.

Be alert: Aside from dressing appropriately to stay cool, another tip is to be alert. Keep an eye out for signs of heat stress, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea or confusion. Again, keep hydrated, pace yourself and remember to take rests – preferably somewhere cool/in the shade. In serious cases of heat stroke – call 999.

Keeping warm

Construction work doesn’t get put on hold in the winter, so it’s vital to work around the weather as much as possible. In the same way we would insulate a structure, the most important thing is to conserve as much body heat as possible. Consider these tips to make sure you keep safe and warm: 

Thermals: Thermal insulated coveralls are at the head of the food chain. The coverall design largely eliminates core body heat loss while affording good range of motion. They’re a bit costly, but if your work is outdoors in winter, then it’s a no brainer. Other thermal items, such as socks and insulated boots, are great if you’re going to be standing/walking on cold surfaces for a long period of time. And when it comes to boots, composite is preferable over steel toes, as they are almost as strong but don’t act as a “cold sink”.

Helmet: Liners under a hard hat are a great way to preserve neck and head heat. Fleece lined fabric is not only comfortable, it’s a great insulator. The hard hat breaks the wind and allows the liner to do its job – together they achieve the right level of protection and warmth. Liners are available in a range of sizes and coverage - the longer the better really, when it comes to protective coverage.

Gloves: Picking the right type of hand protection can be tricky – the fabric and texture needs to be suited to the job, but try to find gloves that allow you to use a liner. Usually they need to be a little bit over-sized, but a lot of improvements have been made. Also, insulated mittens have been developed with various configurations for finger dexterity.

construction siteEye protection: Wrap-around eye protection can also help preserve body heat. There is a lot of blood flow in and around the eyes, and wearing glasses can minimise heat loss. It’s important to protect your eyes because they can be irritated by cold, dry air and wind - not to mention any dirt particles on site.

Scarves: Neckwear is a great work accessory - 70-80 per cent of your heat loss can be from the head and neck area. As well as protecting the neck and chest from heat-loss, scarves allow easy adjustment or removal for instant cooling as needed - but avoid dangling ends that could get caught in equipment.

Moisturiser: While it may not cry out masculinity, using skin cream on any exposed skin will help ward off hypothermia and avoid frostbite on any exposed skin. Ski-masks can be useful in this respect, but they’re not designed for use with a hard hat.

To sum up

Remember when dealing in cold temperatures is that heat loss is worst at the "openings" - or where skin or thin clothing layers are exposed. While in the heat – dehydration is the most common risk, so make sure to have plenty of fluids.

We hope now you’ll be prepared for whatever the weather at work, but if you have any other tips on keeping warm/cool, then do let us know on Twitter – we always love to hear from you.

And if you’re looking for other ways we can help you on your construction site, be sure to check out our fantastic range of materials at International Timber today.