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January 5, 2015

Meet 3 Challenges to Work Safely in Cold Weather

Danger thin ice
Arctic cold has made its way into much of the country this week. Here's some good advice on working in the cold from our friends at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

Three challenges of cold safety:

There are three challenges that must be addressed to enable workers to be safe in the cold: 

  1. Air temperature
  2. Air movement (wind speed)
  3. Humidity (wetness)

Aside from several layers of protective, dry, clothing, and a healthy mix of physical activity, regular warm up periods can help you work safely in, and defend yourself from the cold. As with any workplace hazard, preparation and adequate protection are the keys to safety.


  • Educate and inform workers and supervisors about symptoms of overexposure to cold, proper clothing habits, safe work practices, physical fitness requirements for work in cold, and emergency procedures. 
  • Clearly outline procedures for providing first aid and obtaining medical care and assign at least one trained worker per shift the responsibility of attending to emergencies.
  • Make heated warming shelters such as tents, cabins or rest rooms available for those who work continuously in sub-zero temperatures. 
  • Pace the work so workers won't sweat excessively. If such work is necessary, provide proper rest periods in a warm area and allow employees to change into dry clothes.
  • Give new employees enough time to get acclimatized to cold and protective clothing before assuming a full work load.

What to wear: Top to bottom:

To stay safe and dry, insulate yourself against cold temperatures, wind, and humidity with clothing appropriate for the type of work you will be doing and in the conditions you will be performing it. Wear several layers of loose clothing so you can regulate your comfort; remove a layer before you get too warm and start sweating, or add a layer if you are too cold. Under extremely cold conditions, heated protective clothing should be made available.

  • When you are using face protection in extremely cold conditions, make sure your eye protection is separated from your nose and mouth to prevent eye shields or glasses from fogging and frosting. Wear a wool knit cap or a liner under a hard hat to prevent heat loss.
  • If fine manual dexterity is not required, gloves should be used below 40°F for light work and below 20°F for moderate work. For work below 0°F, mittens should be used.
  • Wear socks that will stay dry and that are the right thickness for your boots - not so thick that they make your boots tight and squeeze your foot - and not so thin that they make your boots loose and cause blisters. Have extra socks so you can dry your feet and change socks during the day.
  • Keep your feet warm in felt-lined, rubber bottomed, leather-topped boots that breathe and let perspiration evaporate. However, if work involves standing in water or slush (e.g., fire fighting, farming), be sure to wear waterproof boots. While they protect the feet from getting wet from cold water, they also prevent the perspiration from escaping. Socks will become wet more quickly and increase the risk for frostbite.

More prevention tips:

  • Avoid using alcohol, nicotine or other drugs that may affect blood flow and cause the body to lose heat and thus increase the risk of hypothermia.
  • Don't expose yourself to cold temperatures after a recent shower or bath.
  • Keep moving; avoid sitting or standing still for long periods of time.
  • Take regular breaks from the cold in warm places.
  • Eat properly and frequently to maintain body heat and prevent dehydration.
  • Drink fluids (hot non-alcoholic beverages or soup) often especially when doing strenuous work to keep warm and hydrated. Limit the amount of caffeinated drinks as they can dehydrate you and cause you to lose body heat.

More information:

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