Harsh temperatures, unpredictable weather conditions, and the variety of potential hazards of the holiday season can add up to a daunting list of challenges. However, planning ahead and taking some simple steps can help you to meet the demands of the season and enjoy your holidays while keeping safe and healthy.
Dressing for the elements
The best defense against the extreme cold is to dress properly. Be sure to wear:
- A hat that covers your ears
- A scarf or knit mask to cover your face and mouth
- Mittens or gloves
- Water-resistant coat and boots
- Several layers of loose-fitting clothing
The outer layer of your clothing should be tightly woven, preferably wind-resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Above all, stay dry - wet clothing chills your body quickly. Excess perspiration increases heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing when you feel too warm. Shivering is your body's way to telling you that it is losing heat - and for you to go inside. If you, or someone with you, were cold and shivering but the shivering has stopped, get inside immediately. Shivering that has stopped is a warning sign of hypothermia and should not be ignored.
Over the holidays you may find yourself behind the wheel, covering more ground than usual. Bitter cold, snow, slippery roads, and unpredictable weather conditions are just a few elements of a Canadian winter that can make driving conditions risky. If you really must drive when weather conditions are nasty, prepare yourself for any emergency that you may run into. Keep a winter driving emergency kit in your vehicle that contains the following:
- Shovel, battery booster cables, and sand or traction mats
- Snow brush, extra anti-freezing windshield wiper fluid
- Road flares, reflective vest, flashlight
- Blanket, warm clothing, gloves, and warm footwear
- Matches or lighter, and emergency candles (use only with an opened window to prevent carbon monoxide build-up)
- Snack bars or other "emergency" food and water
- Insulated bottle of hot beverage
- First aid kit
- A fully charged cell phone
Keep your vehicle in good running order and consider installing snow tires. Keep your antifreeze and fuel topped up. Make sure your windshield wipers work and are in good condition. Keep snow out of your exhaust pipe, and you'll keep harmful carbon monoxide out of your car.
Keeping safe indoors (Indoor air and fire safety)
Cold, snow and ice are not the only hazards of living in a winter wonderland. The lights of the holiday season can sometimes burn too brightly when cooking, and candles cause house fires. These fires can be prevented by never leaving cooking, or burning candles unattended.
Put candles in non-tipping candle holders and keep them well away from anything that could catch fire, such as curtains or the Christmas tree, and out of reach of children and pets. This advice also applies to space heaters. Always use a secure screen in front of your wood burning fireplace to contain embers and sparks. Install a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in your home and test them monthly. Keep a working fire extinguisher handy. Keep in mind that most fatal fires in the home start at night. Have a smoke alarm on every floor, near the kitchen and outside all sleeping areas, because when you're asleep, smoke won't necessarily wake you.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a winter hazard that can kill you before you're even aware of its presence. It is an odourless, colourless, toxic gas that's emitted from automobile exhaust from attached garages, unvented kerosene and gas room heaters, leaking chimneys and furnaces, and back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces. Even gas stoves, generators and other gasoline-powered equipment can be sources of hazardous carbon monoxide (CO).
There are a number of precautions you can take to avoid CO poisoning. Install a CO detector and alarms near every separate sleeping area of the home, keeping them clear of furniture or draperies. Make sure appliances are installed according to manufacturer's instructions and local building codes. When using a fireplace, open the flue. Ask a professional to inspect, clean and tune-up your furnace, flues, and chimneys annually and promptly repair any leaks. Do not idle your vehicle inside an attached garage, even with the garage door open. Never attempt to heat your home with a gas range, oven or clothes dryer, and never use gasoline-powered tools or engines indoors.
Managing holiday stress
Don't let the holidays become a strain. Balance and moderation can help you enjoy the holidays in a healthy way. When organizing and preparing family get-togethers, share responsibilities and get help from family and friends. Make some time for yourself; 15 minutes of alone time without distractions can be refreshing and can help you to face what you need to do. Take an evening walk in the fresh air, listen to some soothing music, or do an activity that will help to reduce stress and clear your mind. Don't forget to maintain your "everyday" healthy habits including getting plenty of sleep and making time for physical activity.
If you will be going to parties or gatherings where alcohol will be served, it's important to plan ahead and drink responsibly to stay safe and avoid injury, to yourself and others. Before heading out, decide who among you will be the designated, non-drinking driver. Don't drive if you have been drinking and don't let anyone else drink and drive. Take a taxi, public transportation, or walk where possible.
Limit how much alcohol you drink. A good tip is to alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and space your alcoholic drinks at least an hour apart. And, remember to have something to eat when drinking alcohol.
With the right equipment, preparation and a measure of caution, you can fully enjoy - and conquer - the winter holiday season.
Other holiday tips
Health and Safety To Go
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts provide tips for preventing holiday stress and anxiety, and feature an encore presentation on working in cold weather.
Feature Podcast: Preventing Holiday Stress and Anxiety
The holidays can be a special time of year but for some, the endless "to do" list can be overwhelming. CCOHS shares ways to prevent holiday stress and anxiety this season.
The podcast runs 5:56 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Working in the Cold
Do you work outdoors in the winter? Join as we speak with Jan Chappel, senior technical specialist at CCOHS, on how to be cautious when working in cold conditions.
The podcast runs 8:13 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.
Workplace Health & Safety Matters
Workplace Health and Safety Matters is the blog of Steve Horvath, President and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. This month Steve reflects on the past year, looks ahead to 2015, and shares his best wishes for the holidays.
From time to time, I think it's a healthy exercise for our own spiritual and mental well-being to take a brief pause to reflect and get our bearings. It's this time of year when we crave the indulgence of some quiet moments to look inward and assess whether we are on the right path for what we aspire to achieve. The same can be said for our organization.
Now is the time to reflect on how past accomplishments have enriched us and how some of the challenges we've faced have empowered our position as a lively and effective organization that can anticipate and respond to constantly shifting demands. This can only arise from our relationships and deep understanding of our stakeholders' needs. I am particularly proud of the fact that, through our collaborative efforts, CCOHS has become an institution where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are blessed with a knowledgeable and engaged staff that has responded to challenges with resilience and drive to improve the well-being of working Canadians. At the same time, looking to the future allows us to reach beyond our grasp. It permits us to have a vision of the future that defines who we want to be and what we want to look like.
Building on our foundation of success, I look to that future and envision our evolution into an aspiring organization - always seeking excellence by leveraging our greatest attributes, those being trust and credibility, to build enduring relationships, expertise and value throughout Canada. Our success here will lead to what I perceive as one of the critical purposes of the Centre.
We will achieve our mission to be a leading workplace health and safety organization by staying focused on our collective vision of success, helping working Canadians across the country and using our collective occupational health and safety experience to provide tomorrow's solutions to today's problems.
I look forward to seeing what 2015 brings, and I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season and a Happy New Year.
Read Steve's blog, Workplace Health and Safety Matters.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2016, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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