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Opinion: Contractors on watch for weather extremes

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Remember the feeling of waking up to a snow-covered yard during elementary school? A snow day during grade school was a highlight of the season. As adults, a snow day is usually just another day at the office, but what about those whose office is outside?

Although Missouri weather is relatively mild compared with other states’ climates, southwest Missouri weather can include extreme highs and lows. While there may not be specific laws governing safe temperatures to work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both have recommendations for heat stress and cold stress. Individual trades also have guides for working during extreme weather conditions. For instance, the American Concrete Institute has guides for contractors on cold-weather concreting and hot-weather concreting. The CDC also has recommendations for heat stress and cold stress based on the type of work performed at different temperatures.

Weather is expected to impact timelines for construction projects – so most budget for a number of weather days. According to Law Insider, “A weather day is defined as a day on which, in the judgment of the project representative, the contractor is prevented from proceeding with at least 75% of the normal labor and equipment force engaged in productive contract work for at least 60% of a normal eight-hour workday due to inclement weather or conditions resulting therefrom.”

Certain weather conditions, such as drastic temperatures, impact all outdoor workers, but other weather conditions are more impactful to specific trades. A dirt work contractor will monitor precipitation, such as rain and snow, but they also will monitor the moisture of the ground even if the precipitation has cleared. A steel erector will monitor wind to determine safety, especially when working at heights.

Once the envelope of a building is complete, other indoor trades have more flexibility, of course. Electricians, plumbers, drywallers and other interior contractors will still fight extreme temperatures on either side of the spectrum; however, they no longer cancel work due to wind, rain, snow or other elements protected by walls and a roof overhead.

Whether temperatures are extremely cold or hot, workers exposed to the temperature and elements should listen to their body for signs of heat stroke, dehydration, hyperthermia, frostbite and other physical threats. Contractors are encouraged to take breaks more frequently to ensure workers maintain a proper internal temperature. Water intake is important during high temperatures, and keeping clothes dry is important for cold temperatures.

While every industry is competing for workers, the construction industry must recognize the hardships that come along with working outdoors. Many industry workers are attracted to the outdoor work and variety that comes along with working on different projects. The Ozarks is a beautiful place to live, work and play all year-round; however, the industry does need to protect workers – especially those new to the industry – from health-related issues while they acclimate to each season. Teams work together on projects and look out for their fellow brothers and sisters of the trade for mental and physical signs of hot and cold weather illnesses. Signs can’t be taken lightly as these illnesses can lead to death.

What does this mean for owners and workers in the construction industry? Planning.

Many owners want to keep employees working throughout the year and stay on schedule for the developer that hired them. Owners do not want to lay off workers, so they have to be creative.

Experienced workers understand the overtime opportunities during the busy season more than make up for missed hours when weather is worse. Some companies focus on indoor projects like maintaining equipment during the off-season or supplement outdoor work with plowing snow. Workers who were laid off or are on reduced hours may pick up work outside of the industry temporarily, including hanging Christmas lights or other handyman services. Other trades offer a mixture of new construction and service work to diversify in slow seasons. Balancing new construction and renovations or repairs can help employees maintain a steady work schedule.

While the importance of preparing physically for extreme weather is important, contractors are responsible to find ways to focus on employees and project deadlines. Weather days are expected in the industry, but contractors must make a point to put employees first.

Megan Herzog is executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association, a member of the Salute to Design & Construction Council. She can be reached at megan@springfieldcontractors.org.

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