Every year, when the weather turns, outdoor workers face frigid conditions during their work hours. Besides being outright uncomfortable, the cold poses significant risks such as hypothermia, cold shock, and trench foot. That’s why workers need the right tools and equipment to prevent injury and illness. These can be as simple as a warm pair of coveralls to emergency kits designed specifically for winter conditions. And that’s exactly what we’re going to look at today.
Cold Weather Coveralls & Layers
The first and most obvious necessity for working in the cold is the appropriate attire. Insulated coveralls are just the thing. These provide a second layer of protection against the cold that protects workers from the neck down, covering any gaps in the worker’s regular clothing. Plus, they’re designed to accommodate the average worker with additional pockets and loops to hold tools while remaining flexible.
These should be worn in addition to regular warm weather attire to maximize warmth. Dressing in layers traps air between them, providing better insulation than the clothing alone can provide. Additionally, this allows workers to add or remove layers accordingly to prevent overheating and reduce sweating.
The innermost of these layers should protect against moisture. Polyester undergarments, for example, will help pull perspiration away from the skin. Additional layers should focus on insulating the wearer while being easy to open or remove. In wet cold weather conditions, the outer layer should be waterproof.
Portable Heat and Shelter
Even with the warmest of attire, workers should still avoid prolonged periods of cold exposure. To help combat cold shock and potential hypothermia from frigid conditions, workers need frequent breaks from the cold. For some workers, that can be as simple as a warm vehicle to rest in before returning to work. However, remote locations or in-progress areas such as construction sites often lack such a place. As such, consider investing in temporary shelters and portable heaters to create a warm space for workers to take their breaks. For large, hard-to-warm environments such as factories and warehouses, consider installing strategically placed heaters throughout the facility to ensure warm spaces are readily available.
Weather Tight Boots
According to the CDC, trench foot is a significant risk when working in the cold. This occurs when feet are wet and cold for a long period of time. The moisture will cause the feet to lose heat faster, and slow the overall blood flow to the foot. This condition can even cause damaged tissue if left unattended. What’s more, this condition can occur in temperatures as warm as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why weather-tight boots are invaluable in cold weather as they keep workers’ feet both warm and dry no matter the weather conditions. To this end, workers should wear felt-lined, leather boots. The leather is porous, and therefore allows perspiration to evaporate. This material can also be moderately waterproofed with readily available products. However, workers facing particularly wet conditions should be equipped with dedicated waterproof boots to keep their feet dry.
Hand & Face Protection
When working in extremely low temperatures, exposed skin runs the risk of developing frostbite. That includes the hands and face. As such, those working in the cold need a tough, warm pair of work gloves to simultaneously protect them from low temperatures and the task at hand. Not only will gloves protect against extreme temperatures, but they will help prevent accidents caused by numbing. What’s more, a simple face mask can do wonders to protect workers in the cold. Cold, dry weather often causes coughing and other respiratory issues. Face masks block this air as well as keep the most often exposed part of the body warm in low temperatures. However, selected face masks should not allow protective eyewear to fog.
Winter Emergency Kit
Any time a person is exposed to low temperatures for prolonged periods, they run the risk of hypothermia and cold shock. This is true no matter how well you prepare your team. Accidents happen. Be prepared by keeping a cold-weather emergency kit on hand whether it’s included in the company vehicle or your workers’ equipment. This kit should include a warm blanket, a first aid kit, and water. Additionally, ensure workers are trained on how and when to use this equipment.
Cold Weather Education
Knowledge is the best equipment a worker can carry with them anywhere. Ensure your workers know and understand health and safety policies in cold weather conditions. These should include instruction on recognizing common cold weather hazards such as frostbite and hypothermia. This knowledge combined with the equipment we have outlined here will keep workers safe and warm during the winter months.