Working in cold temperatures is a not an option in Alberta. Many industries such as construction, service, and landscaping have to prepare their employees for the frigid temperatures in our province. From October to May, the chilly temperatures, snowfall, and windchill can be hazardous working conditions. Ensuring you have a solid cold weather plan in place for employees is essential before the deepfreeze sets in.
Employees should be encouraged to dress in layers, wearing different types of clothing that they can either take off or add on, when necessary. They should stay away from cotton clothing as it will stay wet and make body temperatures decrease. Synthetic fabrics will usually stay dryer and warmer.
Essential: A hat that covers the ears, and two pairs of socks (only if shoes/boots are able to accommodate them).
If people are working in wet conditions, is it imperative to encourage them to wear waterproof outer layers. If they do feel chilled because they’re damp, they should take a break in a heated shelter and get into dry clothing if possible. Damp hair can be a huge cause of decreasing body temperature, whether from sweat or showering. Make sure employees know not to have wet hair while working outside.
Essential: Insulated waterproof boots that trap the heat and keep feet dry and warm.
Exposed skin should be covered at low temperatures as it has the highest chance of getting frostbite. Face, hands, feet and ears are especially susceptible to damage. Protective eyewear is needed if there is a chance of a high wind chill.
Essential: If someone shows signs of frostbite (pins and needles feeling, discoloured skin, numbness, hard area of skin, joint/muscle stiffness) they will need to warm up immediately, and see a medical professional. Never rub frostbitten skin as it could permanently damage the tissue.
Eating calorie dense foods are a great ways to keep the internal body temperature high. Foods that are high in good fats, lean protein, and complex carbs will keep your metabolism going all day. Having a snack during your breaks will keep the body warm and give it more fuel to burn off while doing physical labour.
Essential: Hot or warm beverages and foods such as tea, hot water, coffee, hot chocolate, soup, casseroles, etc. will also help keep your the temperature raised.
Frequent breaks in a heated shelter are crucial to fighting off frostbite and hypothermia. Shelters should be well-heated and breaks should provide an ample chance to rehydrate, snack and get warmed.
Essential: Warming up without a jacket, gloves or hat on will actually help retain heat when outer layers are replaced.
Remember: Employees should know signs and symptoms of early hypothermia in order to prevent a more serious situation.
If they have any of the following symptoms when working outside, they should seek help and get into a warm shelter immediately:
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Extreme fatigue
- Pain in hands and/or feet
For more cold weather working tips, look through our workplace safety resource pages.