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Working in High Winds: The Risks and How To Mitigate Them

The weather can play a huge role in dictating whether or not it is safe to be working outdoors. Working in high winds is a risk that is less discussed but it can be just as deadly to ignore. Workers need to know the risks and hazards associated, and how best to mitigate them.

Severe wind storms are highly dangerous and some gusts can be very unpredictable, blowing in suddenly and taking workers off guard. These storms are often a result of straight line winds, which is any thunderstorm wind that blows constantly between 10 and 40 mph with sudden blasts of 50MPH or more at any moment. 

What are The Risks & Hazards Associated with High Winds?

The hazards associated with high winds depends on the specific type of work and worksite. But generally, the main risks and hazards include:

  • Strains, sprains and broken bones or joints from doors and objects being forcefully pulled from the operator's hands
  • Objects being blown around and hitting workers or members of the general public
  • Slips, trips and falls due to workers reacting to objects that are falling or being blown around
  • Eye injuries due to dust and debris flying around
  • Dropped loads due to wind affecting the completion of lifts
  • Objects (potentially heavy ones) being blown from elevated surfaces

How to Mitigate These Risks

Once you have identified the risks and potential hazards, you can begin to take precautions to make working in high winds as safe as possible. 

Secure all objects and equipment

Scaffolding collapsed in high winds in Portsmouth Credit: Chris Ison/PA Wire

One of the main hazards presented by high winds is that they cause objects to be lifted and blown around, which can severely injure workers and members of the general public. The image above shows a scaffold that blew over in Brighton in 2012. Luckily nobody was on it and nobody was passing at the time, but it caused major damage to parked cars - and obviously could have been much worse.

A wind-related disaster happened in 2017 when Storm Doris brought winds of up to 94mph to the UK and the falling debris killed or injured multiple people

In order to avoid tragic accidents like these, ensure that every single object and piece of equipment, from cladding to scaffolding, has been properly secured. Thoroughly check them even if they look as though they are fixed. After all, strong winds can even uproot trees.

Be prepared and stop working if it is too dangerous

Weather is an important factor when it comes to dictating what tasks can or cannot be done on particular days. Make sure that you stay up to date with weather reports in order to make conditions safe for your workers.

You can either check weather reports, which are readily available via social media, the internet and apps or invest in battery-powered weather radios, which continually broadcast weather information specific to your area.

Avoid certain tasks, such as working at heights and lifting heavy objects. If possible, always try and take the tasks indoors where it will be safer. 

If weather reports indicate highly dangerous and strong gales, then cease all outdoor work immediately. The wind makes it more difficult to hear so workers might not hear vehicles coming towards them and it could even damage their hearing.

Plus, the disrupted centre of gravity and the speed of the winds will not only make it difficult for machinery to be operated and dangerous for the workers, but it may also damage the equipment. 

Never react to falling or dropped objects

The wind can easily blow objects away, particularly light objects such as hard hats and sheeting. It becomes even more dangerous when high winds are involved because they can blow heavier objects such as machinery or even trucks (though, hopefully, your site will be closed by this point).

Ensure you or workers never attempt to pick up, catch or adjust dropped or falling objects, even if they are light items such as hats and jackets. In that second that you are distracted, you may miss something flying towards you or lose your balance on an elevated surface and risk injuries (or worse) due to falling. 

For large but lightweight items, such as damp proof membranes, tarpaulins and other sheeting, ensure everyone involved is reminded to let go if a gust gets up - they can be enormous wind traps. Even the most experienced site worker's instinct may be to keep hold of a rogue ground sheet, but this can result in a strained or dislocated shoulder. 

Or worse if they are picked up off the ground.

Always wear the necessary safety gear

Your workers should already be wearing the appropriate safety gear and equipment, but this becomes even more vital in dangerous weather conditions. Anyone who is working at height should be wearing safety harnesses that are securely fastened. Strong winds can blow people working at height to the side or even off the equipment, which makes it even more important for secured safety harnesses. 

Although if the wind is strong enough to blow a man off a roof, he shouldn't really be on that roof.

Wind also lifts dust and debris, which can easily cause injury. Ensure your workers are always wearing the necessary outdoor safety items such as eye protection and hard hats as well as ensuring your site is dampened down during dry spells in order to minimise dust in the air. 

Keep Your Workers Safe in Spring

High winds, like all of the other severe weather conditions, can present dangerous working situations for outdoor workers. There are many other factors you should also consider if you want to keep your employees safe and happy.

To make sure you have all the bases covered, consider the average seasonal temperatures in the UK, the possible risks and hazards and how best to clothe yourself or workers in order to defend against the elements.

Stay safe out there!

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