Albertans work outdoors in the winter, shoveling sidewalks, clearing driveways, feeding and watering animals, and working on jobsites. While our attention is drawn to the hazards of working outdoors during the deepest lows of winter, factors of windchill, humidity and wet conditions can also pose risks during milder weather. Safety experts agree on basic precautions while working outdoors in cold weather:
Dress in layers. Wear an inner absorbent layer to wick perspiration away from the body, a middle layer for insulation and a windproof outer layer. Choose headgear that protects the ears and neck, and windproof mittens. Gloves under the mittens may be useful if mittens must be removed for work that requires finger dexterity. Keep extra clothing, boot liners, mitts, etc. in your vehicle or at your worksite and take the time to change any item that becomes wet.
Work at a steady, unhurried pace. Heavy, bulky workwear impedes movement and gloves can make work difficult. Steady movement will keep the body’s metabolism up, and a slower pace will prevent excess perspiration. Accept the fact that tasks will take longer in cold weather.
Take breaks. Find shelter away from the wind at regular intervals and stay hydrated with warm fluids, excluding alcohol. (Alcohol dilates blood vessels and makes the body feel warmer, but in fact causes greater heat loss).
Watch for early signs of frostbite. The earlobes, nose, cheeks, fingers and toes are most at risk for frostbite. Seek out a warm place at the first sign of numbness or white patches on the skin and gently warm affected areas. In cases of more severe frostbite, seek medical attention.
Watch for early signs of hypothermia, a condition that is defined by a decrease in the body’s core temperature that occurs when the body is unable to compensate for heat loss. The first signs are feeling cold and shivering, followed by pain, typically in the hands and feet. It is important to catch this most serious consequence of cold exposure before it advances to a state when the feelings of cold and pain diminish, and mental acuity is impaired. Prevent hypothermia by being prepared for working during Alberta’s winter conditions. Carry an emergency kit in your vehicle, watch out for fellow workers, and recognize when it is time for a break in a warm place.