Winter descends in Alberta this month, which means we’re all about to be bombarded with boring seasonal information to dress warmly and take appropriate breaks to warm up on the jobsites. It’s important information, sure, but this is Canada, after all—we’re used to winter!
Canadians have adapted to winter weather in so many little ways, it’s almost hard to see them without a comparison to other countries. For one example, just take a look at this map of how much snow it takes to cancel school across different parts of the US. Canada’s on the map, too, but it’s one color all the way across—with the highest amount of snow needed before school is cancelled. In Edmonton, we might take it even further than others jurisdictions because a teacher once told me (Deidra) that they will never close a school for snow. A big difference from the southern US, where even the threat of snow can be enough to get school called off.
Another example: engine block heaters for cars are commonplace in Canada, but unheard-of further south in North America. And cities here in Alberta don’t shut down even in a blizzard, while predictions of major snowfall can cause mass panic in many parts of the US and even in other parts of Canada.
Another startling difference can be found in official OHS guidelines for Canada, the USA, and Australia. Canadian OHS guidelines about cold temperature extremes are very detailed, giving different exposure limits based on specific temperatures, starting at -26°. US and Australian guidelines are nowhere near as specific, just listing general recommendations – and the Australian recommendations are that no one should work in temperatures below 1°C!
Working in Winter
Plenty of Canadians work outdoors in temperatures far below freezing, but some jobs require a little more winter fortitude than others. Workers in Fort McMurray, for example, have to deal with temperatures that can reach -45°. To function in such extremes, jobsite personnel work in 10-minute shifts, switching off to stand by a fire and warm up. Then there’s the weather station up in Eureka, Nunavut, with the lowest average annual temperature of any station in Canada. Researchers live there year-round gathering weather data.
Wherever you’re working this winter, here’s the required boring reminder: stay warm out there! And here’s one tip you probably won’t find in those standard cold-weather lists: don’t drink too much coffee, because it might just make you colder. It sounds weird, but hot drinks make you sweat, which, of course, cools you off. Science is weird sometimes.
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