Wolf Tracks in Yellowknife

Working in the North Country – Life below -40C

DF SafetyEnvironmental Hazards, Health and Safety Tips, Workplace Safety

Today I share with you my first time in the North West Territories. Having been here for the last four weeks working on a project close to Yellowknife, I have to say, it’s been interesting, to say the least!

While here, I have faced a few challenges; one being, as you would guess, the temperature. Some days, it can dip well below -40C. However, before we go further, I would like to share my thoughts on Yellowknife itself!

Snow bird

The city has a particular charm to it. Downtown is as modern as any city to the south and includes an Old Town which hosts many older buildings including some log structures. Traveling through the city can be fun as you squeeze through narrow one-way streets on your way to unique restaurants, art gallery, or even the local microbrewery. Its charm is especially highlighted through the local residents, who are quite hardy, believe it or not, there is one bicyclist that I see every morning on my way to work even when it is below -40C!   

If you are one who loves the outdoors, and its activities like fishing, hunting, cross country skiing, and more, you will love Yellowknife which has all of this right within city limits. Before I sound like I work for Yellowknife Tourism and Travel, let’s get back to safety!

Personnel Safety Below -40C

People, generally, do not work well in the cold! Frostbite and hypothermia are both definite possibilities to the unwise or the unprepared. Dressing in layers is very important as is purchasing good quality gear.  I broke the bank a bit for some very heavy-duty winter boots and I am glad that I did! The other bit of gear that I have fallen in love with is Marino wool socks and underwear. Warm, and good when the air is moist, best of all, it does not itch like regular wool. I wish I had discovered this stuff back when I was a tradesman wearing those classic itchy wool socks. Remember the grey ones with the red stripes around the ankles? 

Damage to Machinery in Extreme Cold

Machinery also does not work well in the cold, with some diesel machines refusing to start even when plugged in. When all else fails, the standard procedure is to pull a trailer with a diesel heater up next to the equipment, run a couple of heat ducts to it and cover the engine compartment with an insulated tarp. Go for coffee for an hour and let the heat do its magic. Once the machine is running, going slow and steady is key until all of the hydraulic oils get warmed up and things work properly. Cold air is hard on steel, I have seen equipment split and crack in a way I have never seen in warmer climates! Pays to have a good welder in your employ! 

Time to Head Home

This posting was a short-term fill-in position, so I will be headed back south in the next few weeks. I have made new friends and acquaintances and tried a few new things such as driving on ice roads. My last big assignment is to pick out a new winter coat for my wife, they make some beautiful ones here locally trimmed with seal fur. They are warm, stylish, and made right here in Yellowknife, so I will be supporting a small local business as well.   

All the best to everyone and keep warm out there!