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Extreme temperatures: protecting your employees

Extreme temperature is a real danger that Canadian workers can face. Is your workplace prepared for the heat or the cold? Find out what you can do to protect your employees.

The diversity of Canada’s weather is one of the things that make our country special—but with temperatures that can fluctuate anywhere between plus-40 and minus-40 degrees Celsius, we need to protect employees who work in these extreme conditions.

As an employer, you have a duty to protect your employees from extreme temperatures as part of your Occupational Health and Safety requirements. Be it too hot or too cold, do you know what to look for?

Heat Stress

Working in heat is a dangerous hazard for employees. High temperatures can happen in a variety of work environments, including:

  • Machinery: Foundries, steel mills, bakeries, engine rooms, smelters
  • Sunshine: Construction, road work, agriculture
  • Humidity: Kitchens, laundries, canneries

 

When the air temperature or humidity rises above the range that is comfortable for workers, exposure to more heat can cause problems that affect performance and make the environment unsafe to work in. In extreme heat, people may feel:

  • Increased irritability
  • Loss of concentration and ability to do mental tasks
  • Loss of ability to do skilled tasks or heavy work
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Heavy sweating

 

There is information on heat illnesses, their symptoms and remedies including heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat rashes detailed at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Extreme Cold

Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures can cause serious health problems. Cold can be challenging because it not only refers to a standing temperature, but it is greatly amplified by any wind or wetness.

Work efficiency can decrease in extreme cold situations due to:

  • Impaired mental alertness
  • Impaired manual tasks due to reduced sensitivity and dexterity of fingers
  • Reduced muscular strength and stiffened joints

 

The cold can cause different levels of injury:

  • Non-freezing injuries: chilblains, immersion foot
    • Redness in area
    • Swelling
    • Tingling
    • Pain
  • Freezing injuries: frost nip, frost bite
    • Top layer of the skin freezes
    • Area turns white and numb
    • Burning or prickling
    • Blisters may appear
  • Hypothermia
    • Begins as a sensation of cold, followed by pain in exposed parts of the body
    • As the temperature continues to drop, cold and pain starts to diminish because of increasing numbness
    • Continues with muscular weakness and drowsiness
    • Additional symptoms include interruption of shivering, diminished consciousness and dilated pupils.

 

The CCOHS has more information on working in cold environments including in detail how cold temperatures can affect the human body.

Ten things you can do to prevent temperature stress at work:

It is your responsibility to prevent injury or illness as a result of extreme temperatures at your workplace. Here are some suggestions for you:

  1. Hold health and safety meetings with your employees on this subject.
  2. Train staff to be aware of the dangers of extreme temperatures in their work environment.
  3. Have a dress code policy that ensures clothing and safety equipment is suitable for the work environment. This includes footwear, gloves, headgear and eye protection.
  4. Know your federal or provincial regulations to ensure you are working within the safe temperature guidelines.
  5. Have employees take frequent breaks in a comfortable and dry place.
  6. Encourage employees to hydrate by drinking water, clear fluids or sports drinks.
  7. In cold weather encourage warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta and soup to help workers warm up.
  8. In hot weather encourage foods high in potassium, electrolytes, and a little sugar to help someone recharge.
  9. Use the buddy system. Make sure your team looks out for each other.
  10. Accept that extreme temperatures can slow people and productivity down.

 

If your workplace deals with extreme temperatures on either end of the spectrum, our Counsellors would be happy to share additional information with you.