It’s About to Get C-C-C-C-Cold!

Various parts of the province are going to be hit with temperatures below -20°C this coming week, and that doesn’t account for things like wind chill and moisture in the air.

Extreme cold is a major risk factor for our health and safety, especially for those who work outside or in unheated sites. If you do a lot of driving outside of the city, it is also a risk that you need to be aware of. If you have car trouble or end up going off the road, you could be stranded for a very long time and it is important to know how to handle those situations and minimize your risks.

Whether you are working outside or driving in low-populated areas, follow the tips below to make sure you come home healthy and alive.

Working Outside

When you are working outside, the number one most important thing you can do is ensure that you are dressed appropriately for the weather. Dressing appropriately means more than just wearing thick, warm clothes – it’s wearing the right clothes and gear.

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    Cover your head/ears: The importance of a proper winter hat cannot be overstated. Make sure that your hat fully covers your ears to help  you avoid frostbite. It is also a good idea to wear a scarf or balaclava, even goggles, to keep your neck and face covered. In extreme cold or high winds, any exposed skin is dangerous.
  • Wear layered clothing: Proper layering allows your skin to breathe, while trapping in your body heat and keeping moisture and wind out. The layer closest to your skin should be made of a material that wicks perspiration away from your skin. The middle layer(s) should act as insulation, trapping in your body heat and trapping perspiration. The outer layer should also trap body heat and should keep water, dampness and wind out. Think athletic base layer > fleece/wool > water- and wind-proof shell.
  • Wear proper footwear and handwear: Your boots should be insulated and waterproof with good traction to help you avoid slipping. Tight fitting footwear restricts bloodflow, so you should wear boots with room for one thick or two thin pairs of socks without feeling tight. Adding a pair of thermal socks and carrying an extra pair of liners is also a good idea. Your mittens or gloves should also be well insulated and waterproof. If you don’t require gloves for dexterity reasons, mittens are a better choice as they warm the hands more effectively than gloves. You should wear moisture-wicking liners with your gloves/mittens, similar to the base layer you wear on the rest of your body.
  • Stay covered: If you get hot while you are working outdoors in the cold/wind, unzip your jacket slightly for a short period to let some heat out. Do not remove your hat or handwear. Exposed skin in cold temperatures is dangerous, even if you feel hot. Many winter jackets and snow pants have zippered vents around the armpits and thighs – when you feel too hot, try unzipping those for a few minutes. Just don’t forget to zip them back up again.

It is equally important that you make sure you take proper steps to stay hydrated. Warm drinks can be helpful, but limit your caffeine intake and do not consume any alcohol. Hot water with lemon is an excellent option (go ahead and add a dollop of honey if you like!), as it keeps you hydrated and warm without a bunch of caffeine or sugar. A little vitamin C doesn’t hurt either. Herbal teas are another good option. You could also consider bringing a nice, brothy soup as part of your lunch or  to sip on throughout the day.

Make sure you are taking adequate breaks throughout the day to warm up (preferably in a sheltered, heated area), eat and drink. Try to make sure that you are always moving when you are out in the cold, but don’t over exert yourself.

Learn more about Cold Stress, hypothermia, frost bite and trench foot here.

Getting Stranded

If you get stranded, make sure that you stay warm and safe.

  • If you have cell service or a radio, call authorities immediately. Describe your location as best you can.
  • Stay inside your vehicle as much as possible, unless their is an immediate danger such as a fire. Only leave the vehicle for short amounts of time to do things like clearing off snow, making sure the exhaust pipe isn’t blocked, and/or putting up bright materials that will make it easier to find you.
  • Don’t run your car continuously, or else you will drain your fuel and battery life.
  • Make sure that your exhaust pipe is not clogged by snow before running your vehicle, and crack a window while the engine is running to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Run your car for 10 minutes every hour with the heat on to warm up.
  • Cover as much of your skin as possible, especially if and when leaving the vehicle.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine, as they can exacerbate dehydration.
  • Do not fall asleep, unless you have another person with you and can take turns sleeping.
  • Stay calm.

If you drive in the winter, especially outside of the city or through remote areas, it is vital that you have a fully stocked winter roadside emergency kit, complete with medical supplies, food and beverages. Ideally, you will keep the following items stocked in your car at all times throughout the winter:

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    A first aid kit.
    This should be kept in your car year-round. Common items that should be included are:
    • bandages,
    • gauze,
    • alcohol wipes,
    • scissors,
    • safety pins,
    • adhesive tape,
    • antiseptic cream,
    • cotton balls,
    • cotton swabs,
    • hot/cold packs,
    • tweezers,
    • a needle,
    • hand sanitizer,
    • saline solution,
    • pain relievers,
    • disposable gloves,
    • a flashlight; and,
    • any vital medications such as allergy and asthma medications. (Make sure you check the expiry dates on all medications regularly and replace when needed.)
  • A winter emergency supplies kit. This should include:
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    • enough water for 3 days,
    • blankets,
    • toilet paper and other personal items,
    • a flashlight,
    • spare cash,
    • walking shoes/boots,
    • a change of warm clothes,
    • a toque, gloves, a balaclava/scarf, and other winter gear; and,
    • long-lasting food items that are easy to open and don’t require cooking. (If you include canned food, make sure you include a can opener. Things like granola bars, protein bars, crackers, dried fruits and trail mix are great to include, but make sure that you replace them once a year or upon expiry.)
  • A winter emergency car kit. This includes things like:
    • booster cables,
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    • sand,
    • salt or non-clumping kitty litter,
    • a shovel,
    • an ice scraper/snow brush,
    • a tow rope,
    • a tire repair kit,
    • flares,
    • spare gasoline,
    • a “survival candle” in a deep can that will burn for hours along with matches,
    • tire chains if driving through mountainous areas,
    • a cell phone charger; and,
    • a safety vest or other bright clothing to ensure that you are seen if you are trying to flag down other drivers, change a tire or doing anything else outside of your vehicle.

Other items that you might want to keep stored in your car to make your situation more comfortable if you do get stranded are skin moisturizer, lip balm, and a novel, puzzle book or other activity to keep you occupied and awake while you wait for help.