During the winter construction season, Valard crews are continually exposed to extreme conditions. Temperatures can plunge to -35 deg C (-30 deg F) with extreme wind chills, driving temperatures to below -40 deg C (-40 deg F).
In addition to the extreme temperatures, crews encounter everything from light snow to blizzards, creating poor driving conditions. Extreme weather can lead to an increased chance of frostbite and hypothermia, and can also increase risks for slip and trip hazards and motor vehicle incidents.
Communicating with Crews
Crews must maintain constant communication during any weather, but it is especially critical during severe conditions. A large number of Valard's projects can span several hundred kilometers with conditions varying significantly across the project. The communication of crew locations and current weather conditions is a first line of protection.
Communication on the project includes the daily tailboards that cover Valard's safe work procedures for cold weather work. The linemen also rely on the "buddy" system to let workers know if they are feeling the effects of the cold or if they notice potential frostbite on exposed skin on anyone on the crew.
Valard follows The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) established Threshold Limit Values for utilization in cold work environments (see table). This is presented to the crews as part of the Cold Weather Safe Work Procedures.
Workers are trained to recognize the risk factors that increase the health effects of cold exposure. They must also be well-versed in appropriate first aid treatment including rewarming procedures.
Once crews are working, they must have proper personnel protection equipment (PPE) to work in the elements. Some PPE may include winter-lined lineman gloves, mitts or hand warmers; balaclava and neck warmers to cover exposed skin; ice cleats and proper winter boots; and insulated hard hat liners.
The proper vehicle is considered part of the PPE list. If required, linemen can use snowmobiles, tracked vehicles or other all-terrain equipment. Crew trucks are fitted with winter-rated tires. Ultimately, if weather conditions are severe, work fronts are shut down for safety.
PPE and outerwear must be selected based on weather condition hazard assessment. Outerwear must be comfortable, warm and properly fitted. Bulky workwear limits mobility and could cause a potential point of snag.
Proper winter boots must be worn to protect from the temperatures, maintain flexibility and traction. If extremely slippery conditions exist, then crews must wear ice cleats. Based on previous incidents, Valard only supplies heel stop type ice cleats due to mid-sole ice cleats not working with certain types of larger heeled snow boots.
Winter gloves and mitts must be warm, provide the proper protection for the task, remain flexible and have dexterity and grip in winter conditions. It is important to have crews provide feedback on the equipment being used. The crews are the ones using the product and if it is not meeting their requirements, it becomes a hazard. This also allows for consistency of products throughout the company.
In addition to using the PPE, the linemen must stock their trucks with winter survival kits including a first aid kit, emergency flares, matches, candles, blanket and a small shovel. They must also know how to set up winter survival shelters or vehicles to allow isolated work groups to take warm-up breaks. Crews are encouraged to bring additional pairs of dry clothing during the work day. Where possible, workers can use barriers to block off areas of hazards or apply ice melt to eliminate icy conditions.
By training workers to stay safe and providing them with the proper PPE, Valard is preventing cold-related illnesses and injuries and improving linemen’s productivity, even in the most severe winter weather.