Winter Safety

Winter Safety

By Rob Mandeville

Heh folks, brrrrr it?s cold out there! Yeah, I know winter is your favourite time of the year because your boss sends you home with pay till the weather warms up! What?s that you say? Your boss makes you work through winter? Oops, well you better be prepared.

We get a variety of storms up here, blizzards, blowing snow, snow squalls, we get them all and while some of us get to stay inside during a winters storm, some of you have to work outside and there are some very basic things you should know and do if you are one of those folks.

First, the majority of injuries in the winter are a direct result of vehicle incidents (approximately 70%), the rest are the result of being caught out unprepared in the weather. Roads are slippery, People slip & trip on the walkways, hypothermia and frostbite are common, ice falls from trees and power lines and strikes us, power lines come down and electrocute us, people fall off of roofs or shacks while shoveling them or even heaven forbid roof collapse under the weight of snow. We get exhausted more easily in the cold and believe it or not we suffer from dehydration. The final two on my list of hazards for the winter are back injuries and even heart attacks brought on the cold weather.

Now we Canadians pride ourselves on our ability to handle what Mother Nature can dish out, but we forget sometimes that the cold can kill and does kill. For those of you working outdoors hypothermia and frostbite are very real risks. Hypothermia occurs when the body can no longer produce more heat than it is losing. Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that causes freezing in the deep layers of skin and tissue and can cause permanent damage.

Frostbite is recognized by a loss of feeling and a waxy-white appearance in fingers, toes, nose or ear lobes. Hypothermia includes uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion.

Fortunately both of these conditions can be avoided. First off, recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that lead to potential cold induced illnesses and injuries. Learn the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia and be vigilant for them for yourself and your coworkers. Select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions, remember layers is the way to go here and please wear a hat as you lose up to 70% of your body heat through your head. Take frequent breaks in warm dry shelter to allow the body to warm up and whenever possible plan your work schedule to work in the warmest parts of the day, avoiding exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm. Always use the buddy system in the winter, and drink warm sweet drinks (sugar water, sports type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Finally eat warm, high calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.

Walking around in the winter on your jobsite can be treacherous as well and wearing proper footwear is essential. A pair of well insulated boots with good rubber treads is a necessity for walking. Often we work on job sites with rough uneven surfaces so watch your step, better yet on icy or snow covered surfaces take short steps and walk at a slower pace so you can react quickly to a change in traction. Be aware of vehicles as well, they can also lose traction and start slipping towards you, keep up your situational awareness. At night wear bright clothing or reflective gear and in the daylight wear your sunglasses to cut down on glare.

I mentioned earlier that the biggest hazard we face in the winter is driving, well there are things you can do there as well to reduce the hazards you face. Make sure your brakes are in good shape, that your cooling system has proper 50/50 antifreeze and water in the cooling system is at the proper level. Make sure your battery is in good shape and fully charged. Check that your alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension. Inspect all the engine systems and that the exhaust systems is not leaking and that all clamps and hangers are snug. Check your tires, that they have proper tire tread depth, inflation and have no signs of damage or uneven wear. Check your oil and finally please carry an emergency kit.

If you get stranded during a storm while in your vehicle, don?t leave the vehicle to search for help unless that help is within 100 meters. It is easy to get disoriented and lost in blowing and drifting snow. Display a trouble sign by hanging a brightly covered cloth on the radio antenna and raising the hood. Turn on the vehicles engine for about 10 minutes each hour and run the heat to keep warm. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning, keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation. Watch for signs of hypothermia or frostbite. Try doing some minor exercises to keep up circulation, and don?t stay in one position for too long. If more than one person is in the vehicle take turns sleeping. For warmth, huddle together. Use newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation. Avoid overexertion since cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a vehicle can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Be aware of symptoms of dehydration.

As you can see winter poses a few extra hazards for us, but it is easy to be prepared for what Mother Nature dishes out. The biggest thing you can do to return safely each and every day from working out in the extreme conditions is just to think about what you are doing and plan accordingly.

Stay safe and I will talk to you again next week.————————–

Rob Mandeville is a Safety Advisor and Auditor at Action Health & Safety Services. He has his OH&S certificate from the UofA, and is currently studying for his CRSP (Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professional) exams. If you have a question about health and safety or an idea for an article you can reach him at