By Uwe Putlitz

Working on construction sites is inherently a risky business.

Execution of the works is governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1993 and the Construction Regulations 2014 (revised 2017), which are generally complied with by the larger contractors but less so by SMME contractors, who often have limited cash resources and are not necessarily using the correct equipment. While comprehensive and practical, the regulations are less specific when it comes to dealing with the effects of weather.

Electrical and plumbing subcontractors often have to provide temporary services for use by all other contractors on site. Such services must be repositioned as work progresses on site within normal safety specifications.

Responsibility of designers

The Act requires designers to apply their minds at the project concept phase as to how the works are to be executed, and that while novel construction processes may be required – that these remain practical.

Failure to comply

The Act stipulates that fines may be imposed, including imprisonment of repeat offenders. A Department of Labour inspector may issue a notice to comply or close any site or suspend any operation not in compliance with the approved Health and Safety plan and the Construction Regulations.

Climatic conditions

Historic climatic conditions should be considered when assessing execution risks that may be encountered on a construction site in a particular location. As part of the site establishment, the contractor should provide equipment to record abnormally high or low temperatures, cloudbursts leading to flooding including the quantum of rain over 24 hours, or extreme wind speed or gusts, unseasonal snow or thunderstorms, noting the time of day of such occurrences.

Abnormal climatic events may entitle a (sub)contractor to a revision of the date for practical completion and possible compensation should unspecified remedial actions be required. The question to be answered is whether work on site could proceed safely during or after such an event – and if not, to motivate what preventative or other actions are necessary to protect personnel and the works as a whole in order to justify an extension of time claim and additional costs, regardless of the Standard form Contract used.

Construction equipment

Where extreme weather conditions are expected, the positioning and use of construction equipment will require particular attention to ensure the safety of trafficable surfaces, the integrity of guardrails, the erection of suspended platforms or scaffolding and/or hoists, bulk mixing plant and the use of tower cranes. Such equipment must be positioned rigidly and restrained in itself or as part of the structure to withstand sudden wind gusts and/or torrential rain. Should such adverse conditions arise the site must be closed and evacuated in an orderly (rehearsed) manner.

During regular tool box talks, the construction manager, supervisor or site agent must instil a culture of safe working procedures so that, in the event of an emergency, all employees’ actions are ‘automatic’ to avoid panic and to prevent personal injury and loss or damage to the permanent works or the temporary works.

Personal Protection Equipment

The contractor is obliged to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) and clothing for all personnel to suit anticipated working conditions on the site: for example, safety signage and barriers, the review of and the training in standard procedures for firefighting, emergency escape routes from excavations or the incomplete structure, and fall protection equipment when working at heights.

Temperature

All personnel must wear seasonally appropriate clothing and personal protection equipment. Exposure to very low temperatures even if only for short periods, may cause hyperthermia or frostbite while very high temperatures (40 °C and above) may cause heat stroke. Where such conditions are likely, restricted working hours may have to be introduced such as working at night to avoid the heat of the day or the provision of industrial heaters during cold spells.

High temperatures may make it impossible to handle hand-tools or the handling of metallic materials for installation without wearing of ‘special’ gloves.
When placing concrete, unless a special mix is used, the structural integrity of an element may be compromised when temperatures fall to below 5°C or exceed 35°C. In such conditions, either heating or insulation, or cooling with ice may be required. If fresh concrete is exposed to sudden temperature changes, including wind gusts, thermal cracking may result thus impairing the structural integrity.

Wind

Windspeed more than 40 km/h will make working on scaffolding, on a roof or using a crane unsafe. Most current generation tower cranes have monitoring equipment installed to automatically record the date, time, wind speed and direction. Goods lifted by crane may be blown against the structure (damaging the item and the structure, with falling debris injuring personnel) or be dislodged from hooks or a sling. Handling ‘hot’ metal roof sheeting may require further care in windy conditions to prevent ‘twisting’ of roof-sheeting, or being blown away before fixing can occur.
Electric storms
When lightning flashes are followed by thunder within 30 seconds all outdoor activities must be suspended, and employees must be warned to avoid hilltops, open water, trees or isolated structures.

Flooding

Rain more than about 40mm per hour is likely to cause flooding and other damage particularly to excavations and foundations that may require extensive repairs. Depending on the nature of the site it may be appropriate to prepare a construction site to facilitate drainage of sudden flooding.

Conclusion

Should any weather-related event occur, or any other unforeseen activity (for example, local community unrest) the construction manager must be prepared to react speedily and appropriately – possibly warning personnel on site by activating a siren.

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About Uwe

Uwe Putlitz

Uwe Putlitz is a registered professional Architect and Construction Project Manager, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and is a visiting lecturer at the School of Construction Economics and Management at the University of the Witwatersrand. Having recently retired as the Chief Executive Officer of the Joint Building Contracts Committee (JBCC) he specialises in the avoidance of construction disputes by way of lectures, technical articles dealing with aspects of contract administration for various industry publications  arising from the use of Standard-form Contracts including the Federation Internationale des Ingenieurs-Conseils (FIDIC), the General Conditions of Contract (GCC), the JBCC or the New Engineering Contract (NEC) to find an acceptable settlement without resorting to legal processes, where possible. info@buildstrat.co.za