Winter Safety

These past few weeks have been extremely cold in Winnipeg, with temperatures easily reaching -30 with the windchill. For men and women who work outdoors, this can be a particularly difficult time of year. It seems that no matter how bundled up you are, it’s just never enough. Either your toes get cold, your fingers get numb or your body uncontrollably shivers. This is especially difficult for tradespeople working in outdoor construction or up high when it’s windy and there’s nothing to protect you from the elements.
Thankfully, there are a few tips and tricks that can be used in order to stay as warm as possible. Many of these tips are ones used in the arctic and by people up in the Arctic Circle.
We all know that the first parts of the body to really get cold are the hands and the feet. Even the most protective gloves and boots don’t offer much in the way of warmth when it’s –40 and you’ve been outside for an hour or more. One tip that cold weather experts suggest is using hot packs that you simply break apart and they warm up. These can slip into your gloves or your boots and keep you toasty for a short time. Another trick is to make sure you have more than one pair of gloves and boots. Keep the extra pair bundled in a thick blanket inside the cab of your truck so when your hands and feet get cold, you can escape to your truck for a minute and put on warm gloves and boots.
Another tip is to avoid caffeine, but to keep hydrated with warm beverages. Instead of carrying coffee with you, try carrying hot water with a little lemon or a cinnamon stick inside. It will warm you up but without the drawbacks of caffeine. Like alcohol, caffeine is known to actually make you colder, even though it might trick you temporarily into believing, it’s not.
The biggest tip for those who work outdoors is to make sure that you’re using the right gear. This isn’t the time to pinch pennies and spending the extra money on high quality arctic gear will make it a lot easier to brave the cold. What most people in construction don’t take into account is that the standard work jackets or coveralls and boots don’t do very much for you. Sure they look big and bulky but there are better coats and pants out there for you.
Two of the best places to look for winter outerwear are professional camping stores and quartermaster stores where police purchase their gear. This gives you two options in the way of protective gear. The first is that cold weather camping gear is made for the coldest places on earth and for adrenaline junkies sleeping on the sides of mountains as they climb and rappel in the blistering snow. The nice thing about these jackets is that they’re ridiculously warm, but far thinner than the standard work jacket you’d buy at Mark’s Work Warehouse. In addition, they usually offer a significant number of storage pouches since mountain climbers often need to carry a lot of equipment.
The second option is of course police jackets. Now, I’m not suggesting you buy the kind that the average patrolman wears when he’s directing traffic. Instead, I’m recommending the specialty jackets designed for underwater rescue teams or ground search and rescue squads. These jackets aren’t just rated for the cold, but they’re completely impervious to other elements such as water. The added benefit with these jackets is they’re usually very visible and are made in bright colors which makes it easy for you to be spotted at the construction site. (Note: Check your Fire Resistant requirements first!)
Another tip is accessories. Instead of trying to fit a toque under a hard hat, ensure that you have a hardhat liner that fits properly. Consider using ski googles if that’s an option at your job site to protect your eyes and nose from the wind and cold. Balaclavas, unlike scarves don’t run the risk of being caught on machinery or equipment. It’s important though, that you go with a moisture wicking face mask so that your hot breath doesn’t freeze making you even colder.
There’s not many men and women tougher than the ones who choose to work outside in Winnipeg winters. But just because you’re tough, doesn’t mean you can’t be smart. Take steps to ensure your warmth. Your fingers and toes will thank you.

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