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Cold snap prompts safety reminder for workers

Frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes

With winter temperatures forecast to remain cold across British Columbia in the days ahead, WorkSafeBC is alerting employers and workers to be prepared and have a plan in place to manage the risks associated with working outside in below zero temperatures.

From 2011-16, 72 workers in B.C. were injured, one fatally, resulting from exposure to cold. Cold-related injuries include frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot. Hypothermia can take hold of a worker gradually and, if untreated, can lead to death.

“In extreme temperatures, frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes without the proper clothing and equipment,” said Dan Strand, director of prevention field services at WorkSafeBC. “Construction labourers, trucking and transportation drivers, utility and maintenance workers and ski hill operators are just a few of the many different occupations that require workers to perform their duties outside and employers and workers need to ensure they are ready to work safely in these conditions.”

Workers can be affected by frostbite from something as simple as working with wet gloves or removing gloves to put chains on tires. If workers are going to be exposed to low temperatures, employers need to do a cold stress assessment and implement a cold exposure control plan, to prevent injuries.  A cold exposure control plan must determine who is working where, what they will be exposed to and for how long.

To prevent cold stress, exposed skin should be minimized and workers should wear a hat and layer clothing to allow perspiration to escape and trap heat. Clothes need to be kept dry and bare hands must be kept away from metal objects. Workers should also stay hydrated but limit the amount of coffee and tea, said WorkSafeBC.

Employees also need to work rested as fatigue is a risk factor in the cold and employers should pace any vigorous work with scheduled breaks in warm and dry areas.


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Comments (1)

  • Seconds, not minutes - George
    1/12/2017 4:28:11 PM
    On the frigid prairies, it's not uncommon to reach a point where exposed skin freezes in seconds, not minutes. In the old system, that was around 2700 watts per square meter. I don't know what the "equivalent temperature" would be, but in such conditions it's imperative for your company to supply your workers with balaclavas, heavy gloves, and other winter gear. Sending them out in the cold with an uncertain combination of clothes they bring from home can lead to potential liability if they suffer a cold-related injury.