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Climate change in construction: 5 things you should know

Kelly Kinzer, Head of Construction Property August 23, 2019

From worker safety to project deadlines, the effects of climate change in the construction industry can’t be ignored.

crane in flood

From strong winds to flooding, wildfires, freezing temperatures, droughts and extreme weather shifts, climate change in construction concerns contractors and developers alike. Severe weather events can wreak havoc on a construction site, putting workers’ safety at risk and causing extensive damage to the project. The effects of climate change on the construction industry are costly, as they could delay construction projects due to unsafe working conditions. It’s estimated the annual cost of weather-related delays in the U.S. construction industry alone reaches $4 billion.

A focus on safety can help build both resilience and awareness of the effects climate change on the construction industry. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

  1. Use proactive risk management
    Contractors are becoming more aware of extreme weather events and many prepare and mitigate potential exposures through a proactive risk management consultation with construction risk engineers. Having appropriate insurance coverage for extreme weather events is another proactive step contractors and developers can take. Even if history indicates there is a low probability of flooding or high winds at a construction site, it’s crucial to remember those patterns are subject to change.
  2. Keep workers safe from extreme temperatures
    Climate change can lead to more extreme temperatures, and construction workers exposed to the elements could risk illnesses due to heat stress in summer and cold stress in winter. A refresher course on the dangers of exposure to extreme temperatures can help workers recognize symptoms and take appropriate steps to stay healthy and safe. In addition, a construction site can have plans in place for actions to take if a worker experiences heat- or cold-related illness on the job site.
  3. Be aware of sudden changes in weather
    A storm that appears seemingly without warning may leave workers scrambling to take cover or to clean up tools and equipment on the site. Using weather apps with push notifications regarding heavy rain, high winds, lightning and other weather events in the immediate area can help a construction crew get to safety and keep the site safe. In addition, developing a weather safety plan for the site can help give workers clear expectations of what to do before a storm arrives. For example, a project manager’s plan in the event of lightning may include monitoring the forecast throughout the day, creating a notification system for all employees on the site and identifying shelters for workers to use when the storm arrives.
  4. Plan for project delays
    Severe cold weather or a summer with blistering temperatures might shorten the timeline for a construction project, as the temperature extremes limit the days a construction crew can work. A longer winter or earlier-than-anticipated below-zero temperatures could freeze pipes, while hotter-than-usual temperatures can impact quality control for pouring concrete. Contractors might try to compress the schedule so they can still meet project deadlines, but doing so may risk worker safety. Using a forecasting model throughout a project’s duration may help plan for delays due to rain, extreme temperatures and other types of weather, allowing the contractor to schedule tasks accordingly. A contractor needs to plan, communicate and fine-tune their management style to help ensure weather conditions do not derail a project’s timeline.
  5. Prepare off-site locations
    The effects of climate change on the construction industry underscore the need for contractors to look at all exposures that could impact their project – including off-site locations. Flooding or strong winds near a storage yard or project warehouse could damage equipment and delay the project. Implementing a plan to keep all equipment secured during a storm is part of building resilience.

Understanding the risks climate change can present at a construction site may help contractors and developers prepare and plan for severe weather. Working with an insurance provider and a risk engineering team can help a contractor better assess the risks associated with these exposures.

Please see our article, “Construction work sites and severe weather: Lessons learned” for additional guidance.

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