While this winter is unseasonably warm, cold injuries, such as hypothermia and frostbite, don’t require record low temperatures to strike. A false sense of security can arise in warmer temperatures (-5 to +10 Celsius) when the weather seems much less dangerous than a typical January deep freeze, and taking proper precautions doesn’t seem as necessary.
If a company requires employees to work outside for extended periods of time or in cold rooms such as walk-in freezers or unheated areas, proper precautions must be taken to ensure workers are protected from cold injuries. Most cold injuries can be prevented by educating workers on how to dress properly (a layering system), how to eat properly (increased calorie intake with limited caffeine) and how to identify the early stages of cold illnesses in fellow workers (shivering is an indication of hypothermia, white spots on skin are an indication of frostbite).
- Each company should have a plan to protect workers from cold injuries. As a minimum, the plan should include:
- A risk assessment to determine if workers are exposed to natural or artificial cold work environments that could reduce core body temperature or result in cold stress or injury.
- Training and refresher courses for workers and supervisors in high-risk areas on preventing, identifying and treating cold illnesses such as hypothermia and frostbite.
- Procedures for supervisors to monitor air temperature, wind chill factor, level of work effort, and work conditions in cold-risk areas.
Section 25(2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act states that an employer shall provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health and safety of that worker. Section 281(1) of Regulations for Mines and Mining Plants requires providing a heated room for underground workers.
For more information:
Workers Compensation Board of Prince Edward Island:
Guide to Cold Stress at Work:
Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety:
Health Effects of Exposure to Cold