Tips for Running Coating Projects in Winter
Applying industrial coatings in cold weather can present a number of technical and safety challenges for asset owners and coating application personnel.
Summer is but a forgotten memory and we are well into the cold season in some parts of the world. As the days grow shorter and temperatures plummet, the risk of personnel injuries due to falling on the ice is just one of many safety and technical concerns.
While some coating companies prefer to shut down operations in the winter, this isn’t optimal for some clients or coating applicators. Despite the challenges, applying coatings in winter presents a great opportunity for savvy and organized coating companies to make an impact on their business. Here are few areas that need to be considered when applying coatings in cold and icy conditions.
Keeping Workers Safe on the Winter Job Site
As a baseline precaution for working in cold weather, safety training needs to be conducted with all personnel. It should include common-sense approaches such as:
- Avoid carrying heavy loads
- Test icy or slippery areas by tapping a foot before walking
- Walk slowly in small shuffling steps to prevent slipping
All crewmembers should wear brightly colored jackets or clothing to ensure that they are visible to drivers and equipment operators on gray winter days. Using the buddy system can mean help is available on the spot—should an accident occur on the job site.
Monitoring cold weather exposure and creating warm zones so that workers can periodically warm up will greatly reduce any chances of exposure-related incidents. You can tackle frostbite by equipping the crew with attire that will retain heat but not restrict mobility. Anti-slip footwear is a must.
Believe it or not, staying hydrated is more critical in the winter. Wearing additional layers of clothing could lead to our body temperature being slightly higher. Train your crew to drink water throughout the day to maintain good hydration levels. (Related reading: Writing Safety Into Your Coating Specification.)
Preparing the Work Site
In icy conditions, even the most basic job site can quickly become a minefield of danger. Effective snow removal to keep the worksite safe and productive is critical. Using heavy tarps and snowplows will help you achieve that goal. Along with snow removal, it’s important to ensure that icicles are cleared and that the work areas are de-iced or salted for safety. Make sure that you have enough floor mats to provide traction for wet or slippery floors. When using salt for de-icing, make sure that you don’t contaminate your coating substrate.
Utilize warning signs and cones to mark off hazardous areas and have major areas properly lighted. Secure the job site to reduce any chance of unauthorized access. Wherever possible, proper fall prevention measures need to be taken to ensure worker safety. This could include safety netting, fall-arrest harness systems and edge protection.
As part of the planning process, close monitoring of the weather is key. Even with enclosed and heated work areas, the weather could be an issue. High winds are a real risk in winter, and making sure that scaffold and other materials are properly secured is important.
It’s also a good idea to secure heated facilities to store spray equipment when not in use. This will go a long way in ensuring that the equipment will not be subject to a premature failure. (For more tips see How Better Industry Teamwork Can Reduce Premature Coating Failures.)
Using Proper Coating Technologies
The coating industry is always finding new ways to innovate. For example, using a cold weather industrial coating that will cure in temperatures as low as zero degrees or colder will allow you to save on heating costs and not bottleneck your coating process. Many traditional coatings require at least 40°F (4°C) to cure properly.
Does the coating and/or substrate need to be kept free of moisture? One quick method to check substrate dryness involves taking a tissue and placing it on the surface you want to test. Then place your hand over the tissue. The heat from your hand will cause any unseen ice to melt, and you can observe any dampness on the tissue.
Review the coating manufacturer materials or material safety data sheet (MSDS) and pay close attention to see if there are any storage temperature requirements. Heating blankets can be used to warm the coating material if appropriate. Consistently check the dew point, the ambient temperature, substrate temperature, and relative humidity hourly, and be sure that the surface is dry.
If coating sprayers or mixers are used, it’s a good idea to add non-gelling additives that can keep your diesel engines functioning well in the snow.
Despite the challenges associated with applying coatings in the winter, there are plenty of advantages too. Winter is downtime for some facilities, so there may be better access to the worksite and client personnel. Due to the decrease in the number of projects, winter provides an opportunity to catch up on projects that are behind schedule.
Bottom line: keeping workers safe in a winter-prepared worksite and using cold-cure coatings allow the applicator’s business to thrive, even in the cold months.