Between 2015 and 2018, 30 workers in B.C. were injured as a result of cold exposure. The most common cold-weather injury is frostbite, which can occur quickly in extreme temperatures, especially when wind or wet clothing are factors. Cold stress can also lead to hypothermia, where a worker becomes so cold they lose more heat than their body produces. Hypothermia can be fatal.
“Working in cold conditions can lead to serious injuries if you’re unprepared — frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes without proper clothing and equipment,” says Barry Nakahara, Senior Manager, Prevention Field Services for WorkSafeBC.
A number of industries and occupations can involve substantial outdoor cold-weather exposure, including transport truck drivers, recreational instructors, operators and attendants, construction workers, and utility and maintenance workers.
For work in cold weather, employers need to do a cold-stress assessment and implement a plan to protect workers from cold exposure.
WorkSafeBC provides the following safety tips for working in cold weather:
- Wear warm head covering. Most body heat is lost through the head.
- Layer clothing to allow sweat to escape and trap heat.
- Protect hands and feet. Wear waterproof boots and always wear gloves or mittens.
- Pace any vigorous work with scheduled breaks away from the cold. Fatigue is a risk factor in the cold.
- Stay hydrated. Limit the amount of coffee or tea and avoid alcohol.
- When possible, heat the working environment. For example, heated shelters help protect construction workers from cold and damp environments.
More information about cold stress can be found online at: worksafebc.com.