Performing construction work at night can be necessary to get a job done, but it also makes an already complicated and risky line of work even more so.
To effectively manage construction shift work during the nights, there are several key factors you should consider and plan for to ensure a safe and productive job site.
- All risks become more apparent on the job site at night.
- Proper documentation, equipment and communication can mitigate your risk and allow for a safer and more effective job site.
In this Article
Maintain a Safe Job Site at Night
When your crews are burning the midnight oil and pushing production hard through the twilight hours, it becomes more challenging to make sure everyone stays safe on the job site.
While you can’t control every variable, there are a few simple things you can do that will allow you to run a safe job site at night:
Maintain a clean and orderly job site. – Good housekeeping is a simple but powerful way to keep the work going smoothly and making sure hazards are mitigated throughout the night. Any tools, equipment, materials, or construction debris laying around the job site during the day presents a potential trip hazard, but at night, when lighting is significantly less, that hazard gets multiplied by a factor of several. Keeping the job site clean, well-organized, and properly delineated in respect to equipment and material staging areas during the day pays dividends when doing night work.
Provide adequate lighting. – It might seem intuitive that you will need light plants, flood lights, or some means of illumination during the evening to make sure workers can see what they are doing, but I usually underestimated exactly how much lighting I needed. The more light you can provide to the job site, especially covering multiple different angles of well-traveled corridors or access ways, the better. At night, the angle at which the light is hitting an area of the site and the shadows it creates can drastically alter how the terrain and construction appear as workers travel through it. Making sure there is enough lighting helps to keep workers seeing the work they are doing, seeing the hazards they can encounter walking around the site, and it is also crucial to have proper lighting if you are operating heavy equipment around the job site.
Wear Proper PPE. – Proper PPE should always be worn, but its importance becomes that much more important in low light conditions, when all hazards around the job site become enhanced due to lack of visibility.
For example, in conjunction with proper lighting, the reflective material on a Class II or Class III Hi-vis vest might allow the loader operator ferrying material back-and-forth down the job site to see the laborer who is walking by himself to go to the restroom so he can avoid striking him. Or, as trip hazards are greatly increased during night work due to low visibility, even a piece of PPE that seems trivial, like puncture-resistant work gloves, can make a huge impact. If a worker’s hands are exposed with no gloves and they trip and fall, it is much more likely that a worker will sustain hand injuries that affect their job performance.
Plan the Work and Materials Needed for the Night Shift
Planning work on a construction site is always an important part of effective project management, but it’s even more critical when working overnight. What you have on-site when the shift starts is generally what you are limited to throughout the shift and so small issues can start to have really big impacts.
As you’re planning for night work, consider these three aspects:
Create a robust construction work plan. – A construction work plan is a detailed document that contains easy-to-access information about a specific work activity:
- total quantities
- manpower/crew composition
- estimated production rates
- associated cost codes
- equipment needed
- small tools/supplies needed
- step-by-step instruction of how to build the work
- relevant contract documents that pertain to the work.
A good construction work plan should be a one-stop-shop for anything you need to know about the work activity. While this is always a best practice, it becomes even more important at night. The rest of the project management team is likely asleep and if an issue arises during the shift, having a good plan will provide all the documentation about the work being performed and allow the team onsite to solve the issue and continue building.
Inventory and purchase small tools and supplies before night work. – One of the things that can absolutely destroy productivity at night is not having enough of or the right small tools and supplies on-site. This was a frequent issue during many of the night shifts I managed and can stop work dead in its tracks. Home Depot only stays open so late and if you run out of marking paint, batteries, DEF, or duct tape during the night, you had better hope they aren’t critical to keep the work going. Creating and managing an inventory of common consumables and tracking how much is used each shift is an easy way to stay on top of buying enough. This inventory can be updated while the activity is wrapping up so that it can be passed on to management working during the day to buy and have ready for the next night shift.
Make sure permanent materials to be installed are labeled and organized. – Permanent materials that are on-site and yet to be installed are at risk of getting damaged, misplaced, or mislabeled during the day shift. As with everything else we’ve talked about, that risk increases dramatically during the night shift. A slight difference of sizes between different materials (⅝ minus rock and ¼ clean rock or the difference between 12” and 15” pipe) can easily be misleading in the darkness. Materials, unless clearly labeled, can easily be confused and installed in the wrong locations, causing costly rework. Similarly, permanent materials stored anywhere near where heavy equipment or vehicles operating at night are at increased risk of being damaged due to a struck-by incident. The best way of keeping permanent materials safe during night work is to keep them organized, out-of-the-way, well-delineated from access routes, and properly labeled. Make sure the crew is aware of any new deliveries or changes in the staging area made during the day at the beginning of each shift and communicate any changes that were made during the night shift.
Establish Effective Lines of Communication
When working with a night crew on your job site, communication, like everything else, becomes even more important to ensuring the job site stays safe and efficient.
Maintain an updated directory. – Making calls during the evening to other members of the project management team, Owner, or any AHJ contacts is not ideal, but sometimes there are important decisions that need to be made quickly during a night shift. Keeping an up-to-date directory will ensure you have the contact info of the people you need when you’re in a bind. This can be as simple as a picture on your phone of three or four key contacts or it can be as advanced as an interactive mobile directory in construction project management software that contains detailed contact info and additional actions and features that can facilitate easier communication. Ultimately though, you want to make sure you’re prepared for that emergency situation when you need to get ahold of a key team member.
Use radios over long distances. – Communicating along a jobsite with a large geographical footprint, like an infrastructure construction project site, is difficult to begin with, but gets even harder at night. Radios are crucial tools to communicate across large sites where you might not be able to view other workers. It’s also helpful in keeping accountability of the crew throughout the shift, coordinating instruction to different parts of the crew on different parts of the site at the same time, and also to make sure no communication is lost with loud noises and heavy equipment. Radios are a cost-effective and reliable way to ensure the safety and quality initiatives of the job are achieved through good communication.
Make sure that the information included in the daily log is detailed. – Any information about what happened during the night shift should be recorded in detail in the daily log for a couple of different reasons:
- The day crew can pick up where the night crew left off or if the crews are working in tandem on multiple activities, like trenches and laying pipe, the day crew can perform their work so that it sets the night crew up for success and ensures that time can be utilized to the fullest.
- Any incidents that occurred at night that could present a safety hazard to the day crew should be recorded and communicated. For example, if rebar caps were removed to facilitate night work and were not re-installed, a note for the day crew should be made communicating that and ensuring that they are not at risk.
- Weather during the night can be especially important to communicate. Cold temperatures or a saturated site may affect the work of the day crew and this information needs to be documented by the night crew.
Ultimately, while night work presents many challenges, those challenges can be effectively mitigated with robust and proper planning, preparation for the work and training to ensure the whole crew knows how to operate properly. Creating the plan and preparing ahead of time will greatly reduce the safety risks your crews face on a nightly basis, as well as rescue rework and increase productivity even when the low visibility is working against you.