What to do When Jack Frost Nips at more than your Nose

winter landscape

The two most common environmental injuries to Canadian outdoor workers are, in order of prevalence, sunburn and frostbite. While it is possible to get sunburnt year round, frostbite is a concern only in the colder half of the year in most of Canada. Frostbite can be serious – if left untreated it can lead to the loss of fingers and toes – but it is possible to prevent frostbite, and treatment for early stage frostbite can be done at home or on the jobsite.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite is the medical term describing what happens when tissue (skin) freezes due to exposure to cold air.

Winter safety gloves

Where does frostbite occur on the body?

Frostbite most commonly affects parts of the body that are exposed to the cold: nose, cheeks, chin, ears, fingers, and toes. However, it can affect any unprotected skin that is exposed to the cold.

What are the signs and symptoms of frostbite?

There are three stages of frostbite – early, intermediate, and advanced – and frostbite can progress from early to advanced very quickly. Signs of early frostbite include a pins and needles feeling and a light yellow or white hue to the affected body part. As frostbite progresses to the intermediate stage, the skin becomes hard, is cold to the touch, looks waxy or shiny, and forms blisters as the skin thaws. Advanced frostbite is characterized by hard, cold skin, and the colour darkens to a blue or black hue. While the first stage of frostbite is painful, intermediate and advanced frostbite are often pointed out by someone other than the victim as the site has gone numb.

What should you do if you get frostbite?

If you think you have frostbite, first get out of the cold, then seek medical attention. Don’t try to treat frostbite yourself as many home remedies such as sitting in a warm bath can actually cause more harm than good. Thawing the frostbitten area too quickly can cause tissue damage, and is best done at the hospital.

How can you prevent frostbite?

Wear loose layers of warm clothing that covers your body when you are going to be outside. Tight clothing can actually increase the risk of frostbite as it prevents warm air from circulating. Your first layer should help keep you dry, your second layer should be insulating (think wool or fleece), and the top layer should protect you from wind and water. Having good quality mittens or work gloves, a hat that covers your ears, a neck warmer (not a scarf) to keep your chin warm, and warm socks and work boots will keep you warm. However, even the best clothes won’t keep you warm forever so keep track of the amount of time you’re outside and take frequent breaks to warm up inside.

Frostbite can be a serious health risk for people who work outside during the cold Canadian winter, but you can prevent it and treat it if it does occur.

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How do I make sure to get the right size?

To measure your feet:

  1. Get a blank piece of paper, a pencil and a tape measure.
  2. Stand with one foot on the piece of paper, and have most of your weight on your foot to simulate walking.
  3. Holding the pencil perfectly vertical and perpendicular to the paper, mark a line at the back of your heel and at the tip of your longest toe. Also mark a line along each side of the widest part of your foot.
  4. Measure length and width to the nearest 16th inch and subtract .20 to .25 inches, or .50 centimetres, to account for the width of the pencil.
  5. Find your corresponding size in the charts below.

A couple of tips to get the perfect fit:

  • Measure your feet later in the day as feet normally swell and can become up to half a size bigger in the evening.
  • Measure both feet and use the measurements of the biggest foot. Many people have feet that are different sizes.
  • Wear the same type of socks you will generally be wearing on the job when you measure your feet.

Here are some general guidelines to assess fit once you’ve received your new boots:

  • Try on new boots towards the end of the day.
  • Walk around in a clean environment for a couple of hours to make sure the boots are comfortable.
  • Try boots on both feet, as many people have feet that are different sizes.
  • Boots should fit snugly around the heel and ankle when laced.
  • The inner side of the boot should be straight from the heel to the end of the big toe.
  • The boot should grip the heel firmly.

Measuring apparel for proper fit

Size X-Small Small Medium Large X-Large 2X-Large 3X-Large
Neck - Inches 13-13.5 14-14.5 15-15.5 16-16.5 17-17.5 18-18.5 19-19.5
Neck - Centimetres 33-35 36-37 38-39 41-42 43-44 45-47 48-50
Chest - Inches 30-32 34-36 38-40 42-44 46-48 50-52 54-56
Chest - Centimetres 76-81 86-91 97-102 107-112 117-122 127-132 137-147
Waist - Inches 27-28 29-31 32-34 36-38 40-42 44-46 48-50
Waist - Centimetres 68-71 73-78 81-83 91-96 101-106 111-116 121-127

Hint: For the most accurate results, measure yourself in your undergarments.

  • Neck: Measure around the base of your neck, inserting your forefinger between the tape and your neck to allow ease in fit.
  • Chest: Measure around the fullest part of your chest, keeping tape firmly under your armpits and around your shoulder blades.
  • Waist: Measure around your waist, slightly below your natural waist, where you normally wear your pants. Insert your forefinger between the tape and your body to allow ease in fit.
  • Sleeve length: Bend your arm slightly. Measure from centre back neck, across your shoulder, down to your elbow, down to your wrist.
  • Hip: Measure around the fullest part of your hips, inserting your forefinger between the tape and your hip to allow ease in fit.
  • Inseam: Measure a similar pant that fits you well. Measure along the inseam, from the crotch seam to the bottom of the hem.

Between sizes?

If your measurements are in between those listed in the size chart, pick the next larger size.