Key tips for working in cold temperatures

Workers working at a construction site in cold temperatures.
3 minute read  

When living and working in Canada, working in cold temperatures can be an inevitable part of life for some. But when the temperature drops, those working outside can be at risk of catching hypothermia, experiencing frostbite, or dealing with freezing of exposed extremities like fingers, toes, and ear lobes.

That’s why it’s vital that necessary precautions are taken against extreme weather, and if conditions are found to be dangerous enough, work should be delayed or cancelled. We’ve outlined some key tips below for those working outdoors to help ensure they avoid any weather-related risks:

Clothing for cold weather

When working at or below four degrees Celsius, protective clothing is needed, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. But what should that clothing include and how should it be different from your everyday outfits?

  • Layers should be worn, since air between layers provides better insulation than the clothing itself. With layers, you can also remove a layer if the temperature changes and you find yourself overheating.
  • Wear a wind-resistant outer layer if you’re in an area with heavy winds.
  • Your inner layer should be able to “wick” moisture away to help keep the skin dry. If clothing next to your body becomes wet, its insulation value will drop dramatically.
  • Keeping dry is vital, which is why a waterproof outer layer should be worn if it’s raining or snowy outside. Shoes should also be waterproof or treated with waterproof materials.
  • Footwear should also have good traction, to help reduce the likelihood of a slip and fall injury.
  • A hat should be worn if needed. If a hard hat is required for your line of work, a knit cap or liner can be worn under the hat. Be sure to consult with the hard hat supplier or manufacturer for tips on which liners will not compromise the protection provided by the hard hat.
  • Mittens or insulated gloves and a scarf should be worn if needed.
  • Wear protective eye wear that is suited for the work you’re performing and provides protection against ultraviolet light from the sun, glare from any snow, blowing snow/ice crystals, and high winds at cold temperatures.

Equipment for cold temperatures

If possible, workers should not have to remove their mittens or gloves while working in cold temperatures. Because of this, see to it that any machines or tools you or employees are using are designed so that they can be operated while wearing mittens or gloves. If the weather has dipped below the freezing point, any metal handles or bars that may be used should be covered by thermal insulating material.

Monitor cold weather

When working outside, it’s important to actively monitor weather warnings. Keep an eye on notices from Environment Canada for wind chill warnings and cold alert notices. Once equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be able to decide how to dress for the day and you’ll know whether you should consider doing some of the work indoors. If necessary, you may even have to delay some tasks until a later time.

Educate employees before the cold season starts

It can be extremely useful to implement a worker training program that educates employees on the hazards of working in cold temperatures, health effects, and prevention of cold-related illnesses. This way, you and your employees will be able to spot the signs of cold-related health effects early and take preventative measures.

Work procedures for colder temperatures

A number of procedures should be in place if the temperature drops. Seemingly small things can make a large difference for workers.

  • Ensure the pace of work is slow enough to avoid excessive sweating (which can lead to wet clothing) but also high enough to avoid low activity levels.
  • Have warm break areas available so that there’s somewhere to go and warm up if needed.
  • Working in pairs is always a good idea. Establish a buddy system in case of an emergency, especially if working at heights or in a confined space.
  • Consider having a warm sweet drink or soup during the day, as it increases caloric intake and prevents dehydration which can increase the risk of cold injury.
  • Ensure that there are first aid resources on site.
  • Be sure to check in with other employees. If a worker does end up with a cold-related illness, be sure to investigate the incident to find out what happened so you can work to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

To learn more about working in the winter months and handling things like winter car maintenance or roof snow removal, visit our blog today!

This blog is provided for information only and is not a substitute for professional advice. We make no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information and will not be responsible for any loss arising out of reliance on the information. Terms, conditions and exclusions apply to coverage. See policy for details.