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How to keep safe when working in freezing temperatures

Many in Kelowna, and B.C. at large, are still suffering through the freezing snap that descended on the province this week.

With temperatures continuing to lurk stubbornly below the freezing mark, both WorkSafeBC and Environment Canada are urging people to stay safe when they’re outdoors, especially if they have to brave the cold for an extended period of time.

WorkSafeBC spokesperson Trish Knight Chernecki says below-freezing temperatures can be especially dangerous for people who have to work outside.

Over the last six years, she says, one worker died and 71 more were injured as a result of being exposed to the cold.

Common cold-related injuries include frostbite, hypothermia and “trench foot.” Chernecki says hypothermia can be particularly insidious because it can “take hold of a worker gradually and, if untreated, can lead to death.”

Frostbite is also a concern, because it can happen incredibly quickly if the air is cold enough.

“In extreme temperatures, frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes without the proper clothing and equipment,” says Dan Strand, WorkSafeBC’s director of prevention field services.

Chernecki points out that workers can get frostbite from something as simple as working with wet gloves or removing gloves to put chains on tires.

B.C’s minister of state for emergency preparedness, Naomi Yamamoto, recommends people limit their outdoor exposure, and use caution in sub-zero temperatures “due to the increased risk for frostbite and hypothermia.”

For workers who need to be outside to do their job, their employers have to create a cold exposure plan to help prevent injuries. But when workers are outside WorkSafeBC says there are a few very important steps they should follow to stay safe.

First, minimizing exposed skin to cold temperatures and wind chill can do a lot to cut down on the dangers of extreme cold weather. It’s tempting to take of gloves to make work easier, but keeping bare hands away from cold surfaces, especially metal, is vital.

Layering clothing will also allow sweat to escape, and trap more of their body heat, and keeping clothes dry can make a huge difference in the cold. Wearing a hat is one of the best ways to keep more body heat from escaping.

Environment Canada says a wind resistant outer layer is important, and synthetic and wool fabrics provide the best insulation. The agency also reminds workers they can cover their nose to protect it from frostbite.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, while keeping coffee and tea consumption to a minimum. Fatigue is always a concern in the workplace, but becomes even more dangerous in cold weather.

For more information on workplace safety in cold environments visit WorkSafeBC.

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