How Does Adverse Weather Impact Construction Groundworks and Civil Engineering?

20 June 2019

Working outdoors means that it’s inevitable that you’ll be hit by bad weather at some point. This is especially the case in the UK, where even the summer months can’t guarantee us long, dry spells.

According to research, the inclement British weather can delay construction projects by up to 21%, which can have a damaging effect on budgeting, timelines and relationships with clients. If, like us, you’ve got clients’ expectations to meet and deadlines to hit, bad weather conditions can set you back, and these delays can cost you dearly in terms of wages, materials and equipment.

Despite advances in forecasting the weather, there will always be uncertainty, but properly managing the effects of bad weather on groundworks and civil engineering projects is key for protecting your site and your workers. Having a contingency plan in place and properly managing the project can help you to complete on time and on budget without compromising on quality.

So, what is the impact of extreme weather when working on a construction site and how do you properly manage the effects, keeping damage and downtime to a minimum?

How Rainfall Affects Productivity in Construction

As construction workers, we’re well adapted to working in wet conditions as drizzle or light rain doesn’t impact the operative’s ability to complete their job. However, incessant rainfall can mean that a day’s work gets ‘rained off’, subsequently delaying a project, not only by the day of no work itself, but also by the time it takes for any subsequent clean-up that’s needed, including areas that may need to be pumped of water or dried out and debris that needs to be cleared before work can recommence.

Importantly, heavy rainfall can also cause damage to the works, with excavations collapsing, any unfinished elements being exposed to the downpour, such as materials and earthworks becoming saturated and waterlogged, and plant and surfaces being slippery when wet.

How Wind and Stormy Weather Affect Groundworks and Civil Engineering

While wet weather can cause all manner of delays and issues, bad storms and high winds can add even more setbacks to working conditions.

Of course, if lightning is forecast, it’s time to down tools. Lightning is attracted to tall objects and so we would never put our workers at risk by allowing them to work in an exposed area, such as operating a crane, if there was a risk they could be struck by lightning.

If you’re working on a site and a lightning storm unexpectantly hits, it’s important to unplug any electrical tools, remove any metal PPE and find shelter in a safe spot. Remember not to take refuge in an open-sided building or in unprotected excavation equipment.

Storms accompanied by high winds can also cause disruption to a construction site. If gales are blowing, avoid using lifting machinery or equipment as the wind can make it more difficult to operate safely and smoothly and can increase the amount of dust being blown around. We would not recommend that any worker uses a crane in gale-force or high winds.

All companies that operate in the construction industry should have health and safety procedures in place for such storms.

Taking Care in Cold, Ice and Frost When Working on a Construction Site

The cold weather impacts a lot more on a construction site than you may first think. Not only are these conditions dangerous for the workers but, with the onset of ice and frost, plummeting temperatures can affect the machinery itself, causing all manner of hazards on a construction site.

When the temperature drops, groundworkers will have to wait longer for concrete to set, and this slows down the laying of foundations, slabs and brickwork, causing delays to the overall timeline.

It’s not only the construction site that is affected by the cold; our supplies can be impacted, too. Suppliers may sometimes protect themselves by stamping the concrete or tarmac that’s delivered to us. The stamp means that they are happy to send us the material but will not guarantee it when it reaches us or after it has been applied. So, if the product is not of an appropriate standard, we may not be able to use it.

This precaution is taken because concrete quickly loses heat and moisture in colder temperatures. For concrete to retain its strength and curing, it’s recommended that it is kept above 10 degrees Celsius. Otherwise, it can take days for the concrete to properly set – that’s if it hasn’t frozen first. Luckily in the UK, we rarely experience sub-zero temperatures but, through autumn and winter, temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius are common, so it’s something to keep your eye on.

At Mackoy, we’re transparent about how we work and so if there’s a cold snap, we obtain sign-off from our clients to be able to move forward with these particular materials, or we cancel the order altogether to be on the safe side.

In freezing temperatures, water that is in the ground or road formations (especially chalk) can expand when frozen and then sink when it thaws. This makes prepping the roads difficult and we may hold back on tarmacking until we have complete confidence that the sub-base/formation is correct.

These extreme temperatures can also cause frost and ice and operators driving machinery in icy conditions will need to drive even slower than usual to avoid skidding; plant is not as responsive as a car and it’s more difficult to avoid a collision.

Our operators undergo extensive health and safety training and cannot drive machinery unless they have a valid CSCS card, meaning that only the ones with the most experience can drive our plant, especially in icy conditions.

The Impact of Hot Weather on the Construction Industry

Dry and warm weather conditions are ideal when working on a construction site: not too hot, not too cold and free from rainfall. However, if the weather gets too hot and dry, this presents its own set of problems. It can be dangerous for your gangs to be exposed to harsh sunlight and high heat so the priority should always be to protect your workers by insisting they take regular breaks, wear the appropriate PPE and keep hydrated.

In addition, dry heat can cause more dust and airborne dirt – this is dangerous for your workers to be ingesting, and can also damage some equipment, clog up filters and impact their efficiency.

The impact on the materials and site itself is also important to consider. Extreme heat can affect materials including concrete and brick; the bricks can become too dry and, therefore, contribute to weak masonry, essentially effecting the overall standard of work.

How to Mitigate Weather-Related Project Delays in Construction

When taking on a new client and project, it’s important to alleviate some of the risks that can be caused by extreme weather.

As you know, it’s hard to plan for the weather in the UK as we’re regularly exposed to unseasonal conditions. That said, it’s important to allow for weather-related delays and cost implications, even if you take on a project in the height of summer. If you do take on a new project at that time of year, and a heatwave is upon you, you could consider adjusting your working hours to avoid the hottest part of the day; maximise the good weather to get ahead of your schedule so that any future setbacks don’t throw the project completely off course.

When it comes to combatting wet weather, it’s important to have protective measures in place. Open-cut storm drains will help avoid flooding of a site, and having water pumps to hand will enable you to deal with an unexpected heavy downpour. Avoid storing materials close to the ground and build your temporary roads correctly, ensuring they have the correct drainage so they do not get waterlogged, which could prevent people from entering the site safely. Finally, ensure that every worker on your site has the correct safety equipment; we don’t allow anyone to set foot on our sites without the right PPE, whatever the weather.

If inclement weather does force changes to your schedule, be sure to have an upfront, clear and honest conversation with your client about what has been impacted and what you’re going to do to get back on track. Communication is key to good working relationships.

At Mackoy, we’re resilient to extreme weather as we implement robust health and safety measures, as well as forward and contingency planning for such conditions.

Find out more about Mackoy's health and safety regulations.

Receive our Newsletter

Fill in your name and email address and we'll keep you up to date with our latest Mackoy news and developments. (by entering your details you consent to Mackoy sending emails)