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Staying safe in stormy weather

It’s no secret that a popular topic of conversation among the British is the weather. The forecast is always varied and – if the average grumble on the street is to be believed – rarely accurate.

The wind howls, the rain chucks down and as for the temperature, who knows if it’s a day for ten layers or if the sun will suddenly come out and you regret wearing a coat? That’s before we even add all the recent storms to the mix.

So where does that leave outdoor working? What impact does bad weather have on the Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project? And is it even safe to work outside when all most people want to do is bundle up under a duvet with a mug of tea?

There is no simple answer. Each weather occurrence has to be individually considered: we wouldn’t stop work if rain is forecast because the rain described could be anything from a light drizzle to full-on downpour, we have to review the conditions as they happen, taking a common sense approach to the forecast.

Here are a few examples of weather scenarios and their potential impact on our work:

Heavy rain: This depends on the activity. Below deck works can generally be carried out as planned, provided they aren’t affected by water ingress. However painting cannot take place when there is too much moisture in the air – or at low temperatures – so this would have to be rescheduled.

Gale-force wind: The scaffold is rated for strong winds and is sheeted along the length of the underdeck area, meaning the workforce is sheltered.

Above deck, we would have to enforce limits on activities involving lifting operations. Fortunately – so far – no such works have been planned to take place on days when strong winds occurred.

Storms: We lost one day of work during Storm Ciara. This is because the wind speeds were extremely high and lead contractor FM Conway decided to keep operatives off the scaffold to mitigate risk.

Snow, ice and extreme cold: A lot of work can continue in cold weather – unless the bridge was covered in several inches of snow, obviously. However concreting has to occur at a minimum of 5°C, and, as mentioned above, painting is temperature dependent. The cold spell before Christmas delayed some painting work.

What about the programme of works? Does that day of delay during Storm Ciara mean the works will now take longer?

No. Well, not at the moment anyway! There is always the chance of unforeseen circumstances affecting the programme – and we don’t only mean bad weather – the important thing is that our contractors are doing the best they can to keep the programme on track. 

For example, when planning the works lead contactor FM Conway factored an element of risk allowance into the programme to allow for weather events. Where the impact is beyond the allowance they will endeavour to take the necessary steps to recover that lost time, for example rearranging elements of work, or increasing the number of people on site. 

Which brings us back to one of the most important aspects of the refurbishment: the people.

While most people want to stay indoors in the warmth during bad weather, our work continues. Personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by operatives includes waterproof coats and trousers to protect the people from the elements.

The site itself also has an element of protection. Before storms hit, an extra sweep of the site is carried out, strapping down and securing all items as best as possible. This is in addition to the usual end of day close down when all tools and materials are packed up and stored – for safety and to prevent theft. After a storm the site is then reviewed by AllTask, who inspect all of their scaffolding, replacing any elements that may have been damaged.

Hopefully, this helps you to understand a little more about our activities in extreme weather events and the steps we take to keep the workforce safe.

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