Know Your Rights: When Is it Too Cold to Work?

Illustration of a woman in a freezing office

Old Man Winter is back with a vengeance, and he is set to wreak havoc on those who celebrated his departure last year. He will chill you to the bone with freezing temperatures, push you to the ground with strong wind gusts, and ensure that your work conditions are intolerable – indoors and outdoors.

Indeed, after one day of minus [insert degrees here], you will be asking: is it spring yet?

You might also put forward another question: is it too cold to work?

Indeed, the law does vary across jurisdictions, but there is a general acceptance that companies must follow regulations or do what is best for the employee by instituting health and safety protocols.

Here is everything you need to know about working in cold temperatures.

When Is it Too Cold to Work?

What you would not give right now for a bucket of hot coffee, a bowl of chilli and a marathon of Monica Bellucci or Idris Elba films! You are working in sub-zero temperatures, and you feel like you have gained an extra 30 pounds due to all the layers of clothing you’re wearing – and it still isn’t enough to be warm.

So, when exactly is it too cold to work outside, anyway? For that matter, can the indoor workplace be too cold to work as well?

According to Environment Canada, temperatures that range between 0°C (32°F) and -9°C (-15.8°F) can cause slight discomfort, and you should dress warmly. When temperatures range between -10°C (-14°F) and -54°C (-65.2°F), you have a heightened risk of hypothermia and frostnip frostbite. Anything that goes beyond -55°C (-67°F) is hazardous and dangerous and will require you to cancel outdoor activities and stay indoors.

Can I Leave Work If it’s Too Cold?

Of course, you can always leave work, just be prepared to suffer the consequences.

With that out of the way, unless you are showing signs of distress, then you will generally be required to work the shift. You do have the option of taking a sick day, or you can quit if this repeated work in the cold is unbearable and horrific for your health.

Employers in most developed markets are mandated to institute every precaution to protect workers in most circumstances, whether it is too hot or too cold. So, you do have the option of leaving work early, but it is not a right that will afford you full wages for the day.

How Cold Does it Have to Be Before I Complain?

Can you tolerate the cold less than some of your colleagues? Are you more susceptible to the health effects of the cold? If so, you should bring this to the attention of your employer.

That said, if many employees are complaining about the frigid temperatures to your boss, then the business will execute a cold stress prevention programme. This includes identifying worker training in these conditions, incorporating monitoring methods, instituting responses and preventative measures, and ensuring understanding of first aid and emergency responses.

How Can I Beat the Cold?

Here are several tips to fight frigid temperatures and remain comfortable – inside and outside:

1. Wear a Few Layers

When you’re working in sub-zero temperatures for an extended period of time, you do not want your skin exposed. In fact, you should aim to have layers covering your body, from double socks to double (or triple) sweaters. As long as the many layers do not hinder your work, then you should do what is comfortable.

2. Drink Hot Fluids

A hot bucket of coffee, a hot cup of tea, a container of hot chocolate – whatever suits your taste buds, you will need to sip on hot fluids throughout your day. This will not only keep you hydrated but also ensure that you can endure the freezing temperatures.

3. Eat Hot Meals

The same idea applies to your meals during snack time or at lunch. You need to eat hot meals, not something cold like salad or something mild like an egg sandwich. Just be sure to purchase a thermos that can ensure your hot meals can survive the bombardment of cold wind.

4. Close the Blinds

Are you working in an office during the cold temperatures, and it turns out that the heat is insufficient? A simple trick is to close the blinds, particularly during a sunny day, because this will trap the heat. So, for instance, if the sunshine was pouring into your office for a couple of hours, then you can proceed to shut the blinds to prevent that warmth from escaping.

5. Put Hand Warmers in Your Pockets

If you insert hand warmers in your pockets when it is really cold inside or outside, then you are a clever person. This can help when you cannot wear gloves for whatever reason, because you can just put your hands in your pockets while clandestinely inserting your fingers and palms into a hand warmer.

Can My Employer Make the Workplace Warmer?

Employers do not have any control over the temperature outside. But they are still required to implement appropriate measures to make working outdoors more tolerable, such as heating areas, hot beverages, and frequent and extended breaks. They can also determine if certain tasks can be postponed to another time when the falling temperatures ease up.

While there are no regulations pertaining to maximum or minimum exposure to the cold, workplaces still need to implement several measures to ensure that workers are safe in sub-zero weather. Here is what you can expect:

  • Constant observation by either the supervisor or through a buddy system
  • The pace of work is altered, and employees are given time to get adjusted to the conditions
  • Employees’ weight and bulkiness of clothing are taken into consideration
  • Management limits the length of time for sitting and standing
  • Businesses institute safe work practices that recognise cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia

For jobs that contain cold environments, like cold rooms or walk-in freezers, business owners need to erect heating workstations, rest areas, appropriate thermal clothing and rotating duties.

Are There Any Health Hazards to Be Concerned About?

You will unlikely be exposed to anything that dips below -55°C (-67°F). But even if you have to work in temperatures hovering around -40°C (-40°F), there are plenty of health hazards to be concerned about. So, what are they?

  • Frostbite: Your skin looks and feels hard, blisters form, and you may have a hard time moving that part of your body.
  • Hypothermia: When your body temperature drops below 35°C (-31°F), you could suffer confusion, fatigue, clumsiness, shivering and frequent urination.
  • Heart: Because your heart is working harder to keep you warm, you will experience higher blood pressure. If you suffer from a heart condition, then strenuous activities in the cold can trigger a heart attack.
  • Balance: Cold, ice and strong wind gusts can impact your balance, leaving you feeling on edge and teetering. You will have a difficult time standing upright.
  • Dry skin: Winter air is quite dry, so you can have all sorts of problems, from dry skin to feeling like you are contracting a cold.

Everyone’s body is different, and some can endure freezing temperatures better than others. You may or may not experience these issues. If you do, then seek treatment immediately.

Extreme weather is hard when you need to work in it. Your work suffers, your body is tortured, and your soul yearns for the summer wind.

Well, until Old Man Winter makes his triumphant exit, the bitter cold is here to stay. For now, it is all about adapting by wearing layers, consuming hot beverages and knowing your rights.

As long as you are prepared for the stress that comes with the deep freeze, then you can survive and thrive for the next eight hours.

Does your job involve working in freezing temperatures? How do you handle the cold? Join the conversation down below and let us know!