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Working Wise: Tips on Working in the Cold

Dear Working Wise,

Do you have any tips on staying warm while you work outside in the winter? We’ve already had a cold snap and I know that it’s going to get worse.
Signed, Chilled

December 13, 2016

Dear Chilled,

Working in the cold can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. Cold weather is a workplace hazard. Employers must have a plan to control or eliminate the dangers of working in the cold.

Your employer should be monitoring the outside temperature and is responsible for taking steps to protect you.

What employers can do

  1. use a work/warm-up schedule
  2. provide/recommend insulated clothing
  3. provide an on-site heater or heated shelter
  4. schedule work during warmer daylight hours
  5. allow workers to take warm-up extra breaks if needed
  6. use a buddy system so workers don’t work alone in the cold
  7. educate workers on weather hazards and plans to protect them
  8. give workers time to adjust before assigning a full work schedule in the cold

Workers also have a role to play in protecting themselves and their coworkers, because they are more likely to first notice problems like frostbite, hypothermia or dehydration.

What you can do

  1. Dress in layers—Layers allow you to adjust your protection, preventing you from getting too hot and sweating. Damp clothing wicks away body heat and causes you to feel colder faster.
  2. Stay out of the wind—a mild 20 km/h wind can make -20 C feel like -30 C. If you can’t work inside, try building a wind break.
  3. Take frequent breaks—schedule regular rest breaks, based on the conditions, so you don’t forget to warm up.
  4. Limit your exposure—get your tools and materials ready before you go outside. Work on small projects inside and then carry them outside for installation. Work outside during the warmer hours of the day.
  5. Drink warm liquids to help you warm up. Alternate with water or a sports drink.
  6. Cover your head and hands—be careful, scarves and gloves can get caught in moving equipment.
  7. Use enclosures and heating systems when possible, but be sure the area is well ventilated to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide.
  8. Know the signs of frostbite—a tingling sensation or skin that looks pale and waxy are the first signs of frostbite. Your hands, face and feet are at the greatest risk.
  9. Know the signs of hypothermia—severe shivering is an early sign of hypothermia.
  10. Watch out for hazards—snow can hide tripping hazards like extension cords or even icy surfaces. Wear proper footwear and mark or remove hazards.
  11. Ask your co-workers—check out what they wear and ask them what they recommend to stay warm.

If you are concerned your workplace is not safe due to the cold weather to call the Occupational, Health and Safety Contact Centre toll-free at 1-866-415-8690 (780-415-8690 in Edmonton) to discuss the situation.

For more information and tips, check out Working in extreme temperatures on the Occupational, Health and Safety website.

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/DaveAlan

Working Wise is a syndicated newspaper column prepared by the Government of Alberta to answer work-related questions from Albertans. Do you have a work-related question? You can send it to Charles Strachey (charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca), a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services.

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