Cold? What cold? In a Saskatchewan winter outdoor work just gets done

By Glenn Hicks
February 7, 2018 - 8:00am

Cold? What cold? If it’s winter in Saskatchewan – and this winter has been a proper one – outdoor jobs still needs to get done.

When you drive along in your heated vehicle and it’s minus 30 or worse outside chances are you’ll still see crews on a local construction site or working on public services. According to experts the secret to surviving this sort of working day is part preparation, acclimatization and constant monitoring.

“If you’re a bystander and that’s not the nature of your work or you’re driving by a work site, you really have to wonder 'what are these people doing?’,” Jack Hardy a manager of prevention services with the Workers Compensation Board of Saskatchewan told paNOW. “[But] they’ve been out there doing that in two degree increments all year long.”

That’s the acclimatization angle, but Hardy added workers and employers should be partners in monitoring conditions and taking the right steps to ensure things are safe.

“The reality is a worker has the right to refuse what they believe to be unsafe work, so if you hit your personal maximum cold threshold you can declare that and it should be investigated,” Hardy said. But he noted workers have a responsibility to ensure they’re properly dressed for the job they’re doing outside. He said employers should provide things like temporary shelters or heating units, offer hot drinks and allow different working cycles such as shortening the work sessions and taking longer warming breaks.

Hardy said one of the best resources for worker preparation information is the non-profit Canadian Centre For Occupational Health and Safety which sets guidelines for thermal conditions and provides ideas on how to best function in that climate.

Minus 40 to minus 47 is very high risk, he said, where minus 29 to minus 39 is high risk.

The appropriately named Hardy has some experience in extreme cold weather working conditions having maintained CP Rail track over the Rogers Pass in B.C. So does he rate Saskatchewan workers tougher than the rest in Canada?

“You run into those conditions everywhere in this country …I would say Saskatchewan workers are pretty tough but we’re also acclimatized for this; it’s part of our reality.”

paNOW spoke to two men working the vac/jet truck on sanitary sewer lines in the West Flat to get a sense of what winter is really like for them.

“You get used to things for sure," Glen Amonson said. “We’ve had a pretty lengthy cold spell so we’re used to it now, but you get some windy days down by the river …fortunately we can park the truck to block the wind sometimes. Wind chill is the big thing.”

Working alongside Amonson was Richard Hodgson.

“Some days are worse than others. When it gets below minus 35 on water main breaks it can be tough. We layer-up on the clothing and actually minus 30 without the wind is not that bad."

As for whether Saskatchewan workers are tougher than the rest when it comes to winter work?

“Oh yeah,” Hodgson said. “The more you’re out here the easier it gets.”

For Amonson he said workers from this province are more than capable of handling themselves in the cold.

“I worked in Yellowknife years back. In construction up there 90 to 95 per cent of the guys working outdoors through the winter were from Saskatchewan.”


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