If your workers work outdoors or travel on the job, they can be impacted by severe winter weather and exposed to hazards such as being struck by falling icicles and tree limbs or developing frostbite. In fact, according to Environment Canada, in an average year, more Canadians die from exposure to winter cold than from lightning, wind storms and tornadoes combined.
Canada has one of the most severe winter climates of any country in the world. The country experiences a wide variety of dangerous weather conditions including extreme cold, blinding blizzards, and treacherous ice storms. And wind chill can make bad conditions even worse.
- Listen to the weather forecast
Check the Environment Canada weather forecast before going out in the winter for warnings and alerts. Winter weather alerts can be categorized into three basic categories (each of which can occur in combination with another):
Snowfall – significant snowfall
Snow Squall – when cold air moves across larger open bodies of water (such as the Great Lakes) creating nearly stationary bands of cloud and snow
Rainfall – significant rainfall
Winter Storm – issued when multiple types of severe winter weather are expected to occur together
Extreme Cold – extremely cold temperatures or very low wind chill values
Flash Freeze – issued when a rapid drop in temperature causes water from rain or melted snow on streets, sidewalks etc. to quickly freeze
Poor visibility alerts:
Blizzard – issued when winds are expected to create blowing snow giving widespread reduced visibility of 400 metres or less
Blowing Snow – issued when winds are expected to create blowing snow giving poor visibility of 800 metres or less
- Plan ahead
Have a cold weather policy and safety plan prepared in advance to ensure worker safety when it’s very cold or when the wind chill is significant. For example, schedule warm-up breaks for outside workers.
- Dress warmly
Workers should dress in layers with a wind-resistant outer layer. When it’s cold, they should also wear a hat, mittens or insulated gloves, and something to keep their faces warm, such as a scarf, neck tube or face mask.
They should also wear warm and waterproof footwear. And when it’s very cold or when the wind chill is significant, they should cover as much exposed skin as possible because extremities, such as the ears, nose, fingers and toes, lose heat the fastest.
- Seek shelter
When the wind chill is significant, workers should get out of the wind and limit the time they spend outside.
- Stay dry
Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. So workers should remove outer layers of clothing or open their coats if they’re sweating.
- Keep active
Walking, running or staying active will help warm workers by generating body heat.
- Be aware
Ensure that workers and supervisors watch for signs of frost nip, frostbite and hypothermia. Note that the use of alcohol, tobacco and certain medications will increase an individual’s susceptibility to cold.
Here are additional resources from the OHS Insider that you can use to protect your workers this winter, including:
- A cold stress infographic to display in the workplace
- Winter driving tips
- A frostbite risk and control chart
- Spot the Safety Violation: Dress Properly to Avoid Cold Stress
- A handout on cold stress
- Cold Stress Checklist
- Cold Work Warm-up Break Schedule.