Safety Tips | Working in Cold Weather

If you have a job in Canada that involves being outside at all, you’ve probably experienced working through the cold weather. If we didn’t work when there’s snow on the ground, when would we ever work – right?! Working in cold conditions isn’t just uncomfortable, it can be dangerous. Yes, even for us Canadians, no amount of adjusting to the cold will make you immune to the possibility of frostbite, numbness, dehydration or hypothermia. If you’re working outside in the cold, it’s important to be aware of the dangers and be prepared to stay safe.

A cold environment presents challenges to workers in three ways:

Air temperature – Air temperature is measured by an ordinary thermometer in degrees Celsius (°C) or degrees Fahrenheit (°F).

Air movement (wind speed) – There are many different types of anemometers that can be used to measure wind speed or air movement. These are calibrated in either meters per second (m/s), kilometers per hour (km/h) or miles per hour (mph). The general rule of thumb is that you’ll find air movement measured in m/s and wind speed in km/h or mph depending on the region. You can estimate wind speed using the following guidelines if accurate information is not available to you:

  • 8 km/h (5 mph): light flags will move
  • 16 km/h (10 mph): light flags will be fully extended
  • 24 km/h (15 mph): raises a newspaper sheet
  • 32 km/h (20 mph): causes blowing and drifting snow

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) also provides recommendations to protect workers from hypothermia and frostbite. Included in these recommendations is the following wind chill temperature index:

Source: Adapted from Threshold Limit Values (TLV) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEI) booklet: published by ACGIH, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2018, page 222.

Humidity (wetness) – Be aware that water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than dry air.

It’s important to take these three factors into consideration in order to work safely in the cold. Understanding how these three things can affect you on the job is the only way to be properly prepared!

What Are The Health Concerns Of Working In Cold Temperatures?

Environment Canada has developed the following chart which describes the health concerns and potential for frostbite when being outside at various temperatures. Click to check out the full document, Wind Chill – The Chilling facts.

How to Mitigate Cold Weather Challenges

Physical Activity

Keeping moving is one of the best ways to keep your body warm. While the production of body heat by physical activity (metabolic rate) is difficult to measure – It’s broken down into kilocalories (kcal) per hour, with one kcal being the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1°C. But if you don’t speak science talk – think about how hot you get when you work out or do something physically difficult. This works the same on a smaller scale too, so simply keeping yourself moving can help a lot with body temperate regulation.

Work/rest schedule

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) references the “work warm-up schedule” as developed by the Saskatchewan Occupation Health and Safety Division as a good standard practice – But your region may have similar or different regulation in place. This schedule shows the warm-up breaks required for working in cold conditions including the normal breaks that are always to be provided every two hours. The schedule allows additional breaks for workers as the wind velocity at the work site increases and/or the temperature drops.

Note: The information in the chart applies to moderate to heavy physical work activity in any four-hour period. At the end of the four-hour period, an extended break in a warm location is expected. 

Warm-up breaks are assumed to be provided for ten minutes in a warm environment. This guideline applies to workers wearing dry clothing. This guideline is not intended to replace established cold weather work practices that provide workers with better protection.

Protective clothing 

Clothing – Protective clothing is needed when working in temperatures at or below 4°C. Clothing should be selected to suit the temperature, weather conditions (e.g., wind speed, rain), the level and duration of physical activity, and job type. It’s not always about putting on the warmest things possible because if your type of work causes you to excessively sweat, that garment’s insulation value will decrease dramatically. It’s about finding a balance of warm enough – but not too warm.

10 Tips For Optimum Cold Work Clothing 

  1. Clothing should be worn in multiple layers rather than a single thick garment. The air between layers of clothing will actually provide better insulation than the clothing itself! Having several layers also gives you the option to open or remove a layer before you get too warm and start sweating or to add a layer when you take a break.
  2. Your inner layer should provide insulation and be able to “wick” moisture away from the skin to help keep it dry. Thermal underwear made from polyesters or polypropylene is a great option because polypropylene wicks perspiration away from the skin. It also keeps the second layer away from the skin.
  3. The additional layers of clothing should provide adequate insulation for the weather conditions. It’s best to have an outer jacket that’s able to close or open at the waist, neck and wrists to help control the amount of heat that is trapped in, or let out.
  4. When working in wet conditions, the outer layer of clothing must be waterproof.
  5. If the work area cannot be shielded against wind, an easily removable windbreaker garment should be used.
  6. Under extremely cold conditions, heated protective clothing should be made available to you if the work cannot be done on a warmer day (e.g. emergency services)
  7. Always wear a hat suitable for the conditions that will keep your ears warm. If your personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements include a hard hat, a knit cap or liner can reduce excessive heat loss. Consult with the hard hat supplier or manufacturer for appropriate liners that do not compromise the protection provided by the hard hat.
  8. Keep clothing dry. When entering a heated area to rest, remove as much snow as possible to avoid it melting into your clothes. Also allow perspiration to escape by opening up or removing some layers.
  9. If fine manual dexterity is not required, gloves should be used below 4°C for light work and below -7°C for moderate work. For work below -17°C, mittens should be used. (Learn more about the importance of gloves in all conditions and more helpful tips in our blog, Safety Gloves: An Important Part of Your PPE)
  10. Try to avoid cotton as much as possible as it tends to get damp or wet quickly, and loses its insulating properties. Wool or synthetic fibers, on the other hand, will retain heat when wet.

Footwear

Felt-lined, rubber bottomed, leather-topped boots with removable felt insoles are best suited for heavy work in cold since leather is porous, allowing the boots to “breathe” and let perspiration evaporate. Leather boots can be “waterproofed” with some products that do not block the pores in the leather. However, if work involves standing in water or slush (e.g., fire fighting, farming), then waterproof boots must be worn.

You may prefer to wear one pair of thick, bulky socks or two pairs – one inner sock of silk, nylon, or thin wool and a slightly larger, thick outer sock. Liner socks made from polypropylene will help keep feet dry and warm by wicking sweat away from the skin but if the outer sock becomes wet, its insulation properties will decrease. Always have extra socks available so you can dry your feet and change socks during the day!

Check out CCOH’s Foot Comfort and Safety at Work for more general information on how to select footwear!

Face and Eye Protection

In extremely cold conditions, face protection can be used to protect the face from the cold and wind. In this case, any if your required PPE includes eye protection, the eye protection must be separated from the nose and mouth to prevent exhaled moisture fogging or frosting your eye protection. Choose eye protection that will protect against ultraviolet light from the sun, which reflects off of snow as well as protect against blowing snow or ice crystals and high winds at cold temperatures.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia (dangerously low body temperature)

Education and training is your #1 tool in workplace safety. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and If it’s not treated in the early stage, the condition will become life-threatening – Know the signs and you can save a life!

Early Stage

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and disorientation

Late Stage

  • No shivering
  • Blue skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Request immediate medical assistance

First Aid Steps for Hypothermia

  • Request emergency medical assistance
  • Move the victim into a warm room or shelter
  • Remove any wet clothing
  • Warm the center of the victim’s body first (the chest, neck, head, and groin) using loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets
  • If the victim is conscious, warm beverages may help increase the body temperature. Do not give alcoholic beverages (if that’s not obvious!)
  • After the victim’s body temperature has increased, keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck

As mentioned, the #1 way to ensure you’re safety while at work is being in the know – And that comes with proper training and education! Hercules SLR recognizes that and through the Hercules Training Academy, offers an extensive suite of high-quality safety training and certification courses.

Brand new classrooms and specialized training equipment enable us to provide an even higher quality of service than ever before when it comes to safety training. Whether you’re looking for initial or refresher training, we provide practical, hands-on courses designed to exceed the minimum safety requirements.

Our courses can be customized to fit your workplace’s specific needs. We are always willing to design a course (or multiple courses) specifically for you!

If you’re interested in building a customized training program, please get in touch. One of our training representatives would be happy to help you get started.

LOOKING TO BRING YOUR WORKPLACE SAFETY TO THE NEXT LEVEL? CALL US—HERCULES SLR OFFERS AN EXTENSIVE SUITE OF HIGH-QUALITY SAFETY TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION COURSES.