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Not everyone gets to hide out from the snow and cold

“Cold enough for ya?” While temperatures are expected to rise above freezing, the heavy snow and -20°C temperatures endured to start the week had many of us crawling back to our blankets.

Still, for many of the region’s workers – from postal carriers and utilities operators to waste collectors and police officers – it was just another day at the office … out of doors.

Extreme cold and poor road conditions led the region to cancel waste collection for the cities on Tuesday, with intermittent pickup in the townships. “The Ministry of Labour puts out guidelines for outdoor workers, and that’s what the collection contractors follow,” said Cari Rastas Howard, a project manager in the waste management program. “It’s really their own safety regulations for their own staff, and we work with them on that.”

Of the cancellations last week, Howard explained, “With the wind chill, there are concerns about how long the crews will be able to work outside before they can get back in their trucks. The contractors in Woolwich Township have a smaller collection area, so they felt they could do a little bit of work in some of the town areas. But the Waste Management of Canada crews, their safety protocols decided that they were going to pull their trucks entirely.”

Howard advises residents against taking garbage to the curb the night before collection if conditions are excessively windy, to prevent blowing litter.

Meanwhile, officers for the Waterloo Regional Police Services had no choice but to brave the icy roads. “They have a high level of awareness of the conditions already,” said WRPS spokesman Olaf Heinzel. “Like any other driver, they need to be aware of those conditions and drive accordingly.”

Indeed, bad weather often means more work for officers, Heinzel said. “The number of calls we get relating to vehicles going in the ditch due to icy roads and sudden whiteout conditions, for this time of year it’s not unusual. Particularly in the rural areas where there are open fields.”

Heinzel added that police could always use a hand when extreme weather strikes. “We have asked that if anyone is travelling in a remote area and sees a car stranded that they try to determine whether the person in the vehicle needs help. … We ask that citizens take some responsibility to help their neighbours and help to alert emergency services.”

As per the postal service creed, mail delivery has continued through “snow, rain, heat and gloom of night.”

“We deliver to over 15 million addresses across the country, so we’re used to delivering in just about every kind of condition that’s out there,” said Eugene Knapik of Canada Post. “We equip our employees well in terms of layering up, and these days more and more of our employees are equipped with Transit Connect vans, which help in the extreme cold.”

Still, problems do occur. “There are times when the roads are simply not safe,” said Knapik. “We have higher absenteeism, and we have to figure out how we get mail delivered sometimes with fewer resources. … In snowy conditions in particular, it takes longer to deliver the mail, because it’s more difficult slogging.”

Knapik added that residents can help by clearing a path on their property for postal workers.

Busiest of all are the region’s utilities departments, which have to plow the roads in all conditions. “We’re very well prepared for things like this,” said Megan Harris, director of communications for Waterloo. “We monitor snowfall, so when snowfall is about four inches it will trigger our full team to go out and plough.

“Our biggest challenge is the ineffective use of salt in severe weather. Road salt really becomes ineffective when it drops below -15, and that’s what we’re seeing. We have to rely on laying sand down in those instances.”

Other challenges include redistributing staff based on urgency (ice storm cleanup workers may be recruited to clear snow), and rotating shifts to prevent prolonged exposure to the cold.

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