Working In Extreme Cold

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Monday January 18 2016
2015-2019/066

In the winter, parts of the country may be affected by extensive periods of extremely cold weather. Take steps to protect yourself and encourage your co-workers to do the same.

Take Precautions

Slow down. Your body will not perform at its best in cold temperatures. Take your breaks, and try to do so out of the cold. Pushing straight through is not the answer.

Balanced meals and adequate liquid intake are essential for body heat production and the prevention of dehydration. Preferably, drink hot beverages. Avoid alcohol, since it causes blood vessels to dilate, which provokes rapid loss of body heat and increases the risk of hypothermia.

Proper clothing is the best defense against extreme cold. Wear several layers of clothing. This allows body moisture to escape and prevent any outside dampness from getting in.



Prolonged exposure to extreme cold may produce the following symptoms:

Frostnip (mild frostbite):

Frostnip is a superficial freezing of the skin. There is a burning or tingling sensation, but the skin remains soft to the touch.

  • If the skin is warmed up immediately, with a warm hand for example, it will thaw and there will be no damage to the skin or tissues below.

 

Frostbite:

Frostbite is a deeper condition where both the skin and underlying layers (fat, muscle, bones) become frozen. The skin becomes white and numb. This is a serious injury requiring medical attention.

  • While waiting for medical attention, bring the victim into a warm location. Avoid rubbing the frostbitten areas.

As long as the wind chill factor does not go beyond -27o C, the risk of frostbite is very low. However, it increases quickly with a wind chill of between -28o and -39o C. When wind chill reaches -40o C or more, frostbite can follow within 10 minutes for most people. At -55o C or more, it can occur in two minutes or less.

 

Hypothermia:

Hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls below 35 o C. Various symptoms may develop: fatigue, dizziness, spasms, bluish skin, confusion, etc. 

  • When hypothermia occurs, immediate medical attention is necessary. Call an ambulance.
    Do not leave the victim unattended. Remove any wet clothes and put on warm, dry clothing. Wrap the victim up in warm blankets. Provide hot, slightly sweet beverages, but avoid any caffeinated drinks.



Take Care and Report Incidents

There are no federal regulations on exposure to extreme cold. If you attempt your work and find it to be unsafe, you can exercise your right to refuse unsafe work. How? Inform your supervisor and shop steward that you are invoking your right to refuse - article 33, clause 33.13 for UPO members, appropriate Labour Code provisions for RSMC and Private Sector bargaining Unit members -- and returning to the workplace.

Report any incident or condition resulting from exposure to extreme cold. Your supervisor should then investigate, with a union representative present.

In solidarity,

Marc Roussel
National Union Representative - Health and Safety
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