Earlier this month, Environment Canada apologized for misreading the signs that lead its forecasters to predict a colder than normal winter. For the most part in Western Canada, it’s been anything but! It’s still chilly out there though. Remember to respect Mother Nature.
You’ve been working with your jacket unzipped and no gloves, right? Admit there have been days when you know you should have protected yourself — and your employees — from what could be hazardously cold working conditions.
So here’s a refresher. At the start and during the work day, look at more than the temperature. Check wind speed, sweat, how long you’re out, what you’ve got on, whether or not you’re tired, and what you’re actually doing outside. All those variables contribute to your health and safety in winter conditions.
Even if you think it’s not all that cold, it’s still possible to experience frostbite. The wind could drop the actual temperature and you could freeze your skin. Frozen skin can lead to scarring and even a permanent disability. You might not even realize you’ve been bitten. Severe frostbite can simply feel prickly. If you suspect frostbite, warm your skin slowly. Don’t rub it. And get medical attention.
If your body temperature drops below 35 C, you are in a hypothermic state and no matter what you do, your body can’t warm itself. It happens slowly and can be extremely serious. You know that feeling of being so cold you just can’t move your fingers or your tongue? Well — get inside and warm up with heating pads and blankets or even seek medical help.
There are practical ways to avoid frostbite and hypothermia:
- Wear clothing appropriate for the weather. If you’re an employer, you are responsible for making certain your workers are protected against the cold. Layered clothing with a water/wind proof outer layer is usually the best option. Select appropriate footwear, gloves/mittens and face protection to suit the work.
- Schedule work breaks in heated shelters so everyone working outside in the winter can take regular warm-up periods, even if their clothing is perfectly suited to the weather conditions.
- Remember that not everyone responds the same to cold or warm temperatures. Factor in age, health, medications and how accustomed to the cold a person is when you’re ball-parking breaks and working time outside.
For clothing and work period suggestions based on wind chill, go to www.safemanitoba.com and type “wind chill” in the search box. †