Unearthing the Challenges of Mud

Muddy roads after rainy day

Springtime is a season of awakening, renewal, and, of course, mud. Lots of mud. While many logging and heavy equipment companies in Maine adhere to the state’s Department of Transportation restrictions to protect roads from damage caused by thawing and saturated soils, job sites across the state remain active. But what does this mean for your employees? It means new hazards and risks. Without proper planning, things can quickly turn into a messy situation.

At some point during the year, most contractors across the nation face the challenges of "Mud Season." Making rushed decisions during this time can put your employees and those around them at serious risk of injury. This is when the value of the hierarchy of safety controls truly becomes apparent.

Nearly every job site has entrances for employees, deliveries, and equipment movement throughout the day. Whether you're heading to your vehicle during lunch, carrying materials around the site, or unloading tools to start your day, mud will be all around you. It's important to clear these muddy drive aisles and work areas by using equipment such as a bulldozer and to limit pedestrian traffic. If keeping employees off the job site is not feasible, consider marking designated walkways and, if they are wet, cover them with crushed stone or a wood base to ensure slip-resistant walking routes. Remember, it takes less time to fix an area and make it safe than to extract stuck equipment or manage an injury.

When it comes to equipment on the site, such as aerial lifts, rough terrain forklifts, and scaffolding, always ensure that outriggers are placed on sturdy surfaces that can support both the equipment and its load. Traction and control are significantly reduced in slick conditions. For scaffolding, mud sills should be placed on fully thawed ground.

When moving equipment through these muddy areas, don't forget the unsung hero – the spotter. Always ensure that they have walked the intended route prior to the equipment's travel to identify any changes or new hazards. Pedestrians must maintain a safe distance from moving equipment, keeping hands off the load and maintain eye contact with the operator. In slippery conditions, employees can easily slip and be at risk of being run over by moving equipment.

For employees working in the mud, it is important to ask yourself three major questions when assessing the task:

  1. What is my access? Start from your vehicle and consider your tasks throughout the day. Think about where you might get stuck in the mud and consider alternative routes.
  2. What are the ground working conditions, and what will happen if I work here? Break down these questions for your specific worksite. What type of mud is it? How deep is it? Will the temperatures rise? Will the mud change? Is there a better time to work in this area? Can I get stuck? Do I have a risk of slipping?
  3. What equipment/PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) should I have prepared? Wear boots that provide good traction and keep your feet dry. Look for boots with aggressive treads that offer a reliable grip. Wear long pants to protect yourself from scratches and scrapes caused by mud and debris. Consider using mud mats or plywood to create a cleaner and more stable work area.

Here are some additional tips to consider when preparing for the day:

  • Stay hydrated and nourished. Working in mud can be physically demanding, so make sure to carry plenty of water and energy-rich snacks to avoid dehydration and fatigue.
  • Dress in layers. Weather can be unpredictable, so opt for moisture-wicking base layers, breathable mid-layers, and a waterproof outer shell to adapt to changing conditions.
  • Work with a partner. Don't tackle muddy tasks alone. Having someone to watch your back and offer assistance can be invaluable in case of an accident.
  • Carry a first-aid kit. Be prepared for minor cuts, scrapes, or insect bites.
  • When using climbing equipment, ensure that the steps are clean and free from mud. Always maintain three points of contact for stability.
  • If your foot gets stuck in the mud, gently wiggle it back and forth to loosen it. Yanking on it can be ineffective and potentially lead to injury.

Injuries, especially sprains and strains, are unfortunately common among workers in muddy conditions. Every worksite and situation is unique. If you have concerns about a project's safety and are insured by MEMIC, contact your dedicated safety consultant for support.