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Healthy Environment

Cold Weather Outdoor Safety

Printable Fact Sheet (PDF)

Extreme cold occurs when temperatures drop significantly below average for that time of the year. Exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can cause other serious or life-threatening health problems. To keep yourself and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold-related health problems and what to do if a cold-weather health emergency arises.

Those at Risk

During extreme cold weather, everyone is at risk, but some groups are more vulnerable than others. They include:

  • Homeless people.
  • Outdoor workers.
  • Sport enthusiasts (skiers, ice skaters).
  • People living in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat.
  • People living in homes without power (usually due to other weather-related events such as a winter storm).
  • Children and infants (under 1 year). Infants lose body heat more easily than adults and unlike adults, can’t make enough body heat by shivering.
  • People 65 years of age or older → Older adults often make less heat because of a slower metabolism & less physical activity.

When it is safe to do so, you can visit, telephone or check in on them regularly ensuring they have warm clothing, basic necessities and a safe means to stay warm. If needed take them to warm locations such as local libraries or shopping malls.

Outdoor Safety and Travel

You can avoid cold-related injuries by following these additional cold weather safety tips:

  • Plan ahead – listen to the weather forecast and be prepared.
  • Dress warmly and cover exposed skin. Frost bite can occur in as little as 30 seconds.
  • Wear several layers of loose fitting clothing made of wool, silk or polypropylene (these materials retain more heat than cotton).
  • Stay dry, wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess sweating will also increase heat loss. Therefore when you feel too warm, remove some of the extra layers of clothing.
  • Keep children indoors if the temperature falls below –25°C, or if the wind chill is –28°C or greater. (Canadian Paediatric Society, 2009)
  • Keep moving. Limit time sitting – stand up and move around.
  • Take shelter from the wind – this will reduce wind chill exposure.
  • Always be alert for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Drink warm fluids – but NOT caffeinated or beverages containing alcohol as they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
  • Listen to the radio or television for travel advisories.
  • Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges or when visibility is poor.
  • If you must travel take a mobile phone with you and let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive.
  • Ensure you have a winter emergency kit in your car before you leave and additional warm clothing.
  • Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or snow; shattering may occur.
  • Don’t rely on a car to provide sufficient heat; the car may break down.

See our Conditions and Symptoms of conditions associated with extreme cold temperatures.

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