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Construction work sites and severe weather: Lessons learned

June 13, 2018

Hurricanes and wildfires create unique challenges for work sites. There are risk-mitigation actions to consider before, during and after an event.

Hurricane threat to business FMI

The devastating wildfires and hurricanes of 2017 that left a trail of destruction in the U.S. and Canada resulted in staggering losses for people, communities and businesses. The implications for contractors, whose projects may last several years in areas vulnerable to severe weather events, can be daunting.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria — all striking in two months’ time — rank among the top five costliest U.S. hurricanes on record. Last year’s California wildfires grabbed most of the headlines, but wildfires caused considerable damage in other parts of the American West. In Canada, British Columbia wildfires in 2017 destroyed millions of acres, and the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire in Alberta proved the costliest in Canadian history.

The experience from last year, and the accumulated wisdom gained over many years, can shed light on some considerations that shouldn’t be overlooked before, during and after a severe weather event:

A pre-emergency plan should be specific. Specificity is critical in crisis-management events for hurricanes, wildfires or any natural disaster. Create a plan that identifies and addresses the exposures unique to a project’s location. It also needs to address how to best protect construction equipment that can be valued in the millions of dollars.

Be prepared for mandatory evacuations. The ultimate goal of an effective evacuation plan is to reduce the time it takes to implement. Work with local authorities to identify all available emergency evacuation options for workers, have evacuation routes mapped out, and conduct regular unannounced practice drills. Also be sure that important documents are securely stored, whether they are paper or digital. This includes your evacuation plans, which should be easily accessible as printouts as well as digital files. When conditions are ripe for a severe weather event, constantly monitor reports from local news and government authorities to help assure a timely response.

Start small when returning after disaster strikes. When you’re authorized to return to a work site after a severe weather event, don’t bring everyone back at once. Deploy a preassigned team to conduct a hazard assessment. Understand and plan for assorted environmental hazards to protect workers. Because demand for supplies and/or workers may be high, it’s also important to have more than one vendor secured ahead of time to help get your project back on track.

Get additional tips on protecting a work site from a severe weather event.

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