Met Office warns sector over severe project delays and increased site accidents; Multiplex says weather may stall Wembley stadium even further

People on the streets in a show storm

The Met Office has warned this week that construction projects may face delays as a result of what is predicted to be the worst winter in a generation.

The Met Office’s construction spokesperson said construction firms were not well enough prepared for a winter in which the average temperature between December 2005 and February 2006 could drop to below 3.5°C (see average temperature table factfile).

She said: “The impact could lead to delays to contracts. People remember what they like to remember and the past eight winters have been milder than average. People might think this is normal but it isn’t.”

The warning comes as Multiplex cited the British winter as a reason why its programme to build Wembley stadium may slip, despite its earlier insistence that it would be ready for the FA cup final in May.

Multiplex has already delayed the laying of the grass on the Wembley pitch. Pitch specialist Hewitt Sport was meant to lay the turf in January but after the Met Office’s forecast it is now planned for March, just weeks before the handover of the ground to Wembley National Stadium Ltd.

David Trench, a leading project manager, has warned the industry of the hazards of bad weather. Trench, a director at Trench Farrow, said he suspected the industry was not prepared for a colder-than-average winter.

He said: “It’s never been a problem in recent times. Last time we had a freeze-up, Tony Blackburn was a compère on the radio. Many people won’t have invested in preparing for this because it doesn’t happen very often.”

London mayor Ken Livingstone also said that he feared for the capital as London and the South-east could face its coldest winter since the long freeze between December 1962 and March 1963.

Last time we had a freeze-up, Tony Blackburn was a compère on the radio

David Tench

Extremely cold weather could prevent concrete from curing and make site plant inoperable. The unions have also warned that working with icy scaffolding is a severe danger and it wouldn’t be safe for those in tower cranes to operate them in wind speeds greater than 30 mph.

Contractors will be forced to carry out risk assessments if a site looks unsafe under health and safety regulations. If there is a problem that can be worked around, the employer has to produce a method statement explaining how it intends to do this.

Under most contracts, extreme weather conditions permit contractors to claim extensions of time. However, if the weather was predicted at the start of the job, the contractor may be expected to have factored it into its programme. Contracts signed before the Met Office’s predictions should not be at risk, providing the contractor can prove that the weather was exceptionally bad.

However, employers would have to pay the workers who turned up on sites but were unable to work.

Tom Kelly, London officer for the GMB, said he hoped companies listened to the forecast and invested early in protective equipment as well as warm clothing.

He added: “There’s some work that’s just not possible if you’re dressed like a Michelin man.

One would hope companies will be foreseeing the problems. They certainly have to have the proper protective equipment.”

Kelly warned that the industry could face a run on protective machinery if contractors don’t act until the last minute. He said: “It’s not good enough to go out and buy equipment when it gets to –10ºC because everybody’ll be doing it.”