Winter weather may be mild so far this year, but that is no excuse to neglect basic cold weather safety. Every employee should be educated about the perils of working in extremely cold weather and prepare accordingly.
Job site supervisors should also vet employee uniforms before the day begins and monitor work habits so that everyone can stay healthy, warm and safe. To help ensure that everyone is dressed for the weather, abide by these cold weather clothing and protection guidelines:
Use a Smart Layering System
No matter the day’s weather, every winter-ready outfit utilizes the same basic principles for keeping the wearer warm, dry and protected from cold-weather hazards:
- Base layers wick moisture away as the body sweats and also provide the most basic warmth close to the skin. These materials should be designed for wet performance, so cotton products are out! Use wicking materials instead, such as polypropylene. Base layers include:
- Wool or synthetic socks
- Long johns or similar thermal underwear
- Cold weather athletic products like Under Armour
- Light insulating layers provide basic warmth while being lightweight and easy to maneuver in. Think of the light insulating layers as the clothes you keep on indoors once you shed your outer snow gear. Examples include fleece pullovers, lined work pants or a thin wool sweater.
- Heavy insulating layers retain heat the best and keep it held close to the body. Heavy fleece or wool sweaters and winter coats can make up this layer.
- Outer shells protect from wind and water. Waterproof jackets, outer pants liners and other products can provide a thin, light barrier that does not interfere with inner layers. Some winter workwear can pull double duty as a heavy insulator and an outer shell, such as ski jackets or thermal-insulated coveralls.
Always Wear Dry, Warm Socks
Your body will rapidly pull heat from your feet to keep your core warm, so insulating your feet and keeping them dry is a major priority. Avoid cotton socks in the winter and opt for materials that can still perform when wet. Some workers also double layer their socks by having a thinner wicking liner covered by a heavy wool sock layer. Larger boots may be needed for such a system, but the benefits are worth it.
No matter your approach, keep an extra pair of dry socks handy just in case!
Keep Out Snow with the Right Gloves and Boots
Without question, your boots must be waterproof if you intend to work outside during the winter. They should have a high ankle and can include extra insulation materials. Consider using boots with composite reinforcement instead of steel toes since steel can draw away heat. Snow gaiters can go over the boots to add extra waterproofing and keep out snow.
Mittens are the best outdoor gloves for warmth, but they can lack the articulation needed for some work. Find a pair of thick, waterproof gloves that matches your outdoor work needs, and wear an inner liner that can be switched out with a dry pair when needed.
Keep Your Head and Face Warm
Luckily, some protective equipment can pull double duty to keep you warm. Hard hats are great at trapping heat and blocking wind, so enhancing them with a thermal helmet liner can make them work even more in your favor.
Eye goggles can similarly eliminate a major source of heat loss while keeping your eyes warm and moist when working outside — not to mention the protection they provide from harmful dust and debris.
Wear the Right Winter Workwear for the Job
Not every piece of winter workwear will be needed every day, but workers should always be prepared just in case. Layered clothing can be removed one article at a time to suit the needs of the worker as his or her body’s condition as well as outdoor conditions change throughout the day.
No matter what, ensure that your workers are protected from the costs of injuries that can occur during cold-weather work. Check your workers’ compensation policy benefits to determine whether the weather could take a toll on workers in more ways than one.