Staying Safe in Extreme Cold: Essential Advice for Canadian Workers

In Canada’s often harsh winter climate, outdoor and some indoor workers face unique challenges. It’s critical for employers and employees alike to understand these challenges and how to safely manage them.

Understanding Cold Stress

  • Definition: Cold stress occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be replenished, often exacerbated by factors like wind chill, dampness, and insufficient clothing.
  • Risks: Workers in our energy sector, ranchers/farmers, emergency response, and outdoor construction face significant risks. Health conditions like hypertension and diabetes can increase these risks.

Recognizing Cold-Induced Illnesses/Injuries

  • Hypothermia: This dangerous condition occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 35°C.
  • Frostbite: Caused by freezing of skin and underlying tissues, it’s a common risk in extremities exposed to temperatures well below 0°C, so anything as cold as it is currently increases that risk exponentially.
  • Trench Foot: Occurring even at temperatures up to 15°C, this results from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions.

Prevention and Protection

  • Appropriate Dressing: Wearing multiple loose-fitting layers is vital. This includes moisture-wicking inner layers, insulating middle layers (like wool or fleece), and wind/waterproof outer layers. Don’t forget a hat, insulated gloves, and waterproof boots.
  • Monitoring and Breaks: Employers should regularly check on workers’ conditions, provide breaks in warm areas, and ideally, schedule work during the warmer parts of the day.
  • Training: Workers need training to recognize symptoms of cold stress and understand the necessary preventive measures.

Best Practices for Employers and Employees

  • Engineering Controls: Implementing measures like radiant heaters and windbreaks can significantly reduce cold stress risks.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Drinking warm, sweet fluids (non-alcoholic) and eating high-carbohydrate foods can help maintain energy and warmth.
  • Emergency Response: In emergencies, such as when someone shows confusion, drowsiness, or slurred speech, immediate medical attention is crucial. For hypothermia, wet clothing should be replaced with dry, warm coverings.

Understanding and preparing for Canada’s cold weather conditions is essential for worker safety. Both employers and employees have crucial roles in ensuring a safe and healthy working environment during the cold snaps and winter months.