Working in cold climates means taking extra precautions with both equipment and employees during winter months.
During winter in Edmonton, Alberta, it’s not unusual for temperatures to dip to 30 degrees below zero. That stops a lot of things from working well, from pipelines that freeze to hydraulic controls on equipment that barely function – even employees who work outdoors.
But despite the brutal conditions, which can run from late October through March or April, work rarely stops for employees at Canessco Services Inc., an industrial cleaning and wastewater services firm.
“When it’s minus 30 degrees, you’re just trying to keep water from becoming a giant ice cube,” says Nathan Gagnier, operations manager. “We use water-recirculation systems in our vacuum trucks to keep water constantly moving. And the trucks are equipped with boilers to provide hot water for thawing pipelines and hydroexcavating frozen ground.”
Dressing for success in such harsh conditions requires wearing insulated coveralls (good to 40 degrees below zero) made by Helly Hansen and Carhartt, balaclavas and toques (knit hats), waterproof gloves and insulated, steel-toed rubber boots from Dunlop. Gagnier says workers typically wear an insulated liner under their waterproof gloves for extra protection. Some workers prefer Ski-Doo mitts to gloves.
“But those (mitts) can be bulky, so if you’re working on something that requires fingers, sometimes you have to take them off,” he says.
Canessco workers take other steps to handle the cold, from taking breaks as needed inside trucks to constantly scrutinizing trucks’ operations. “Everyone knows that things take longer in winter … the trucks operate slower because the hydraulics slow down,” Gagnier says. “Instead of using hydraulic fluid, we use automatic transmission fluid (as hydraulic fluid) year-round on our combo vac trucks because it’s less viscous.
“You also have to pay more attention to your unit,” he continues. “For example, if you try to extend a boom when it’s frozen up, you might break it. Or if a pump freezes up, it might cost $20,000 to fix it because you cracked the head.”
What’s the toughest cold-weather job Gagnier recalls? Hydroexcavating atop a hill a couple years ago, with wind chills of 22 to 31 degrees below zero. “We were trying to locate a pipeline on the side of a hill, so there was nothing to block the wind,” he says. “We had to excavate a hole 35 feet deep. It was real cold, but it needed to be done. You just dress really warm and take micro-breaks to warm up inside the truck.”
In rare instances, sometimes it’s just too bitterly frigid to work outside, he adds. “If it’s too cold, we don’t send our guys out — unless it’s a real emergency,” he says.
For more on other tricky jobs Canessco has undertaken, check out the full profile here.