How to Maximize Safety and Minimize Incidents During Spring Break-up

By Christina Schroff
Christina Schroff
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spring break-up

Spring break-up — that lovely time of year when freeze-thaw cycles abound, transforming what was once solid ground into muddy messes — is officially upon us.

In this blog post, we'll review the basics of spring break-up, how it impacts companies and workers, and — most importantly — best practices to help you maximize workplace safety when faced with these extreme conditions.

What is spring break-up?

Spring break-up refers to the time of year when melting snow and frost cause ground conditions to become extremely soft and muddy — usually during March and April, although of course that isn't set in stone (we Canadians know how unpredictable Mother Nature can be).

Who does it impact?

Although this seasonal trend tends to have a significant impact on western Canada's energy industry, it's worth noting that oil and gas workers aren't the only ones affected by spring break-up.

While spring break-up is commonly known to significantly affect upstream conventional oil and gas activities, any project operating in a remote location accessed primarily by a gravel or dirt access road can be impacted by these seasonal freeze-thaw cycles. Even commercial construction sites might need to prepare to manage the effects of spring break-up, depending on their location.

How does spring breakup cause such a disruption?

1. Infrastructure

Freeze-thaw cycles and melting snow and frost cause the ground to lose structural integrity. This is why regions that are severely impacted by spring breakup often see an uptick in road bans during this time of year — the ground beneath many of the access roads that lead to rigs and remote work sites isn't strong enough to support extremely heavy loads, such as construction equipment, gravel trucks, and heavy machinery. Road bans during this time of year aim to preserve the integrity of these roads for as long as possible.

Furthermore, even if the roads leading to a worksite during spring break-up aren't closed, the sites themselves could be incredibly muddy and difficult (or, sometimes, even dangerous) to work and operate on.

2. Performance

In terms of personnel, frontline workers are often the most impacted during this time of year. Office work can typically continue as usual, so management isn't usually affected to the same degree as frontline workers.

For those labourers, operators, and other frontline personnel who are able to continue to work during spring break-up, delays in work performance can be a challenge. Environmental conditions can cause tasks to take longer than usual, and their scope of work might have to be adjusted accordingly.

What can project managers do to prep their sites and keep their sites safe during spring break-up?

  • Plan work activities ahead of time, especially those that specifically rely on accessible ground conditions
  • Set up your site with positive drainage
  • Have the proper equipment available for the conditions you'll be working in
  • Create a safe, accessible work site by having the proper resources on hand, such as access mats and/or gravel or other infill material that can help make the ground more stable

What can individuals (labourers, operators, etc.) do to stay safe on the job during spring break-up?

  • Pay attention to your surroundings
  • Actively manage hazards in real-time
  • Watch your footing
  • Keep an eye out for tripping hazards since grounds conditions change throughout the day, especially during freeze-thaw cycles

Overall, spring break-up is a change in workplace conditions, and companies and workers need to adjust their hazard assessment processes and controls accordingly to reduce hazards and incidents during this time.

At Paradox, we can help reduce hazards by providing safe, reliable access solutions to companies and organizations thrive — even during the notorious spring break-up.

Don't let your productivity get stuck in the mud this spring. Click the button below to get in touch with our access solutions team — we'll make sure your projects stay on solid ground.

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Originally published March 27, 2020, updated March 27, 2020

Topics: Health & Safety

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