OHS Canada Magazine

Western employers reminded to take precautions for workers toiling in cold


For work in cold weather, employers need to do a cold-stress assessment and implement a plan to protect workers from cold exposure. (Artem/Adobe Stock)

With cold temperatures and winter conditions continuing to be in the forecast for most of B.C., WorkSafeBC is reminding employers and workers to take precautions and stay safe when working outdoors.

A number of industries and occupations can involve substantial outdoor cold-weather exposure, including construction workers, utility and maintenance workers, transport truck drivers, recreational instructors, operators and attendants.

Between 2016 and 2020, a total of 56 claims were accepted by WorkSafeBC for injuries related to cold stress. 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 has the potential to be fatal.

“Working in cold-weather conditions can lead to serious injuries if you’re not prepared,” says Tom Brocklehurst, Director of OHS Practice and Engineering Support at WorkSafeBC. “Employers need to be aware of the risks to their workers during this cold snap, and ensure measures are in place to keep their workforce safe.”

For work in cold weather, employers need to do a cold-stress assessment and implement a plan to protect workers from cold exposure.

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WorkSafeBC provides the following safety tips for reducing the risks to workers from cold weather:

Elimination or substitution

Eliminating the hazard is the most effective control. Consider if the work can be done in a different environment.

Engineering controls

Making physical modifications to facilities, equipment and processes can reduce exposure to cold weather. Consider if heated warming shelters can be placed on site, or if machines and tools can be designed so they can be operated without having to remove mittens or gloves.

Administrative controls

Consider if work practices and work policies can be changed to reduce risk, such as work rotation to decrease cold exposure, and pacing the work differently so workers don’t have to exert themselves in cold weather.

Personal protective equipment

PPE should be the final consideration when doing a risk assessment. Consider whether personal battery-operated heaters or chemical heating pads under clothing can be used. Workers need layered clothing, a head covering, and must keep hands and feet warm and dry.

WorkSafeBC adds that it’s important that workers stay hydrated when working in cold weather by drinking plenty of fluids, but to avoid drinking coffee, tea or alcohol.

Workers or employers with questions about working in cold weather are encouraged to call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line at: 1-888-621-7233.

More information about cold stress can be found online at worksafebc.com.


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