Cyclone Safety on Construction Sites: How to Prepare your Construction Site for an Incoming Cyclone

Tower Crane in a storm

Cyclone and Storm Preparedness on Construction Sites:

If you are working in an area of Australia that is prone to cyclones or large weather events - which is, let’s face it, practically every major town and coastal city in the country - then you need to be aware of what it would take to make your site safer prior to a weather event, and be able to enact that plan at relatively short notice. This involves prior thought and planning, and then ultimately training your team on what to do should they need to galvanise into action prior to an anticipated weather event. We talk below about the must-dos in the lead up to a storm or cyclone, and how to secure certain items on your site in an emergency.

Preparing a construction site for a storm or weather event is one thing - but also understanding how this event may adversely impact construction operations after it has passed is another. In the case where the cyclone or storm causes major damage to the local residential area around it - not only can the clean-up be long and protracted, it can also mean that construction suppliers, inputs and labour can be hard to come by due to increased demand from the storm clean-up.

Storm and Cyclone Risk Assessments - Look at these key areas of your site

Upended and Damaged Equipment from High Winds

A category 4 or category 5 cyclone has wind speeds that are sufficient enough to pick up, upend or entirely relocate things like traffic signage, scissor lifts, small EWPs, - the list of possible equipment carnage goes on. If the wind doesn’t knock something over, then flying roofing iron or other airborne objects can severely impact equipment, knock it over, remove attachments or damage it to the point of write-off. You need to be aware of the risks to the equipment, and also your obligations to the hire company if a machine is damaged or ruined on your site during a weather event. Understanding the hirer’s insurance cover and its limitations can be key here.

Flooding on your Construction Site from Rain and Storm Surges

One of the most damaging aspects of a cyclone crossing near your construction site can be the impact of the subsequent storm surge, tidal flood or flooding rains. You need to survey your site for low lying areas, and for its proximity to waterways nearby - because if your site and all its equipment and inputs are inundated, there are many complex safety and cost implications in the clean-up process. Be aware of your site’s propensity to flood, and where critical infrastructure and equipment are parked. It's possible to obtain past flood information from the local government, that maps low-lying areas of cities so you can be prepared and armed with information about your site prior to a weather event.

Preparing your construction site for a weather event - a step-by-step guide

  1. Prepare to shut down your site about 24-36 hours before the intended storm landfall or cyclone crossing
  2. Contact all subcontractors and request that they temporarily halt work (just note that a lot of them have weather clauses in their contracts, discussed below, so be sure to understand the costs you will likely incur by standing them down - discussed below)
  3. Email all main contractors on the site and ask them to submit proof of insurance for their equipment (if you don’t have it already)
  4. Move all materials storage to high ground
  5. Reduce the amount of debris on the site by doing a site clear into the skip bins
  6. Call the skip bin company to pick up the skips and empty as quickly as possible
  7. Take inventory - take a comprehensive inventory of machines, supplier items, consumables and equipment on the site for reference after
  8. Ensure all chemicals - in containers or storage units that have the potential to rupture and leach into groundwater - are on high ground, or are removed from site. This relates also to the holding tanks of portable toilets
  9. Clear or dig around storm water clearances and drains - these could easily silt up and stop water from escaping in the local residential area or your site, causing worse flooding than anticipated
  10. Store whatever consumables, supplies and lose items you can inside site sheds or adjacent buildings, where possible
  11. Remove, store and secure all site signage, especially traffic signs, lighting and message boards
  12. Ensure all parked up plant has locked cabins, and secured GET fixtures and attachments, remove GPS units
  13. Turn off main access points to electricity and gas lines
  14. Fuel site vehicles (in case of serious emergency in the local area when help is required) and park on high ground

Securing certain items on your job site for a weather event - helpful tips:

Portable Toilets: Can become flying missiles, and can cause environmental damage when their holding tanks rupture and burst. Secure portable toilets by weighing them down with blocks or sandbags, tying with rope to a nearby sturdy structure or parking heavy plant around the unit to shield it from wind and flying debris.

Traffic Barricades: Traffic barricades, particularly the plastic ones, can become missiles in particular strong winds and can also unhelpfully relocate themselves all over highways and main traffic thoroughfares. If not already - fill with water to weigh down, or increase sandbag count.

Cranes, Excavators, EWPs & Scissor Lifts: You need to ensure any machine with a boom has its boom retracted, raise the hooks, remove buckets and other attachments - especially expensive fittings such as GPS and total stations. Allow Tower Cranes to Weather Vane.

Bad Weather Clauses in Construction Supplier Contracts:

The subject of weather on construction sites and its impact on contracts and hire is a complex one - given that the weather is really no ones fault, and the site not operating because of bad weather can’t be to anyone's financial disadvantage. However, its officially an ‘act of God’ as contracts would state - and there are some responsibilities and common contract clauses in machine hire contracts that you need to be aware of, prior to a storm, cyclone or other weather event bearing down on your site.

Wet Weather Clauses

Most contracts stipulate that the hirer of the machine, or the contractor - needs to actively cancel the day’s hire due to wet weather and in doing so, will incur the hire minimums (for your standard wet hire kit - that is usually 2-3 hours, but can vary from supplier to supplier). What this means is - even if it's bucketing down and everyone in the town can see this - the onus is still on the hirer to call the hire company and cancel that service prior to them leaving the depot with the machine, within the cancellation timeframe (which is usually between 1-2 hours prior to the start of the shift) or prior the operator turning up onsite ready for the shift, otherwise the stipulated hire minimums will apply.

Wet weather clauses also extend to dry hire - where the hirer needs to call the company and ‘stand the machine down’ on their site - which is an agreement where the machine will remain parked up on the site until the weather clears where it will be ‘re-hired’ and put back into service. You will incur hire minimums for the machine itself (and any additional rates applied to attachments) as well as labour-hire minimums for the operator, which is also usually 3-4 hours.

Damage Costs & Waivers

Most contracts with a plant hire company include a ‘damage waiver fee’ of approximately between 0.5% and 1% - which is a small margin the plant hire company puts on the hire to account for things like scratches, dents, damage to buckets, hitches and other small items of wear and tear. These fall under the broad legal term of ‘reasonable wear and tear’ - and usually are limited to scratches or dents smaller than 2cms, slight chipping or damage on buckets, in the cabin or on the booms. These waivers do not account for substantial damage to a machine that could occur in the instance of weather events like cyclones and storms. Plant hire companies have insurance for this type of thing - but if or when it comes time to claim to an insurer for a machine that acquired serious damage during a storm or cyclone, then the insurer is going to be trying to implicate the hirer to determine whether everything that could be done to protect the machine was done prior to the storm hitting landfall.

To ensure you are completely protected from the machine’s insurer making a claim against you for negligence, we recommend securing the machine as discussed above, parking it out of harm's way or indeed, having the hirer return it to the depot from the site so that you as the construction manager is not liable for its condition during or after the event. These weather events are obviously rare - but it's important that in the lead up to a storm or cyclone hitting your site - you are keenly aware of the cost implications of damaged machines, and exactly where you sit in the liability scheme of things.

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