Cold weather can affect outdoor work in a variety of ways, but the right PPE equipment helps the work get done. Here’s what you should know.
Cold weather can affect outdoor work in a variety of ways, but the work needs to get done regardless of the elements. But without the right personal protective equipment (PPE), working outside in the cold can be uncomfortable or even hazardous. In addition to proper training and safe working conditions, the proper protective equipment can help your employees get their work done as comfortably and safely as possible.
Wearing the Right Clothing
Dressing properly for the cold depends on how long you’ll be outside, whether the conditions are wet or dry and how cold the temperature is. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), wearing three layers provides the best protection for extended winter exposure. These layers should include an inner layer of silk, wool or another synthetic material to wick moisture away from the body, and a middle wool layer for insulation purposes. The outer layer should both protect against the cold, windy or wet conditions, and provide ventilation to prevent overheating.
Long thermal undergarments, flannel shirts and down vests all provide excellent protection—particularly when layered. Those who spend a lot of time outdoors on a daily basis also often wear insulated bib coveralls or duck canvas overalls. For all conditions, jackets that extend below the waist, and are made of either down or an engineered insulating material, are a good choice, according to OSHA. For wet conditions, jackets that have a protective waterproof or highly water-resistant exterior provide suitable protection.
Protecting Your Head and Extremities
When it’s cold out, protecting your head is very important. A hat shields your ears from the cold and retains heat. The combination of a hat and headband or ear muffs will often work better than a hat alone because hats can easily rise up off the ears as workers move around, according to the National Safety Council.
It’s also important to make sure that all extremities are protected. Blood vessels constrict when exposed to the cold, so extremities, which have fewer blood vessels than large body parts, become vulnerable. This includes toes, fingers and feet, and also ears, the nose and cheeks. For the right winter PPE equipment to protect the feet, OSHA recommends warm, insulated and waterproof boots. For industrial and other heavy work conditions, waterproof or water-resistant steel-toed boots are available to keep your employees’ feet warm, comfortable and protected.
Waterproof or water-resistant insulated gloves are important to maintaining warm hands during an extended workday outside. Unless your workers are simply on-site as observers, they need to be able to flex, pull and do other hand-related activities that are necessary for getting the job done. Protective gloves that allow the movement of the index finger and thumb are available for such duties.
Knowing the Conditions
Be aware that wet conditions and dry conditions may require different clothing. Waterproof materials used in wet conditions keep moisture at bay and greatly reduce the risk of frostbite or hypothermia. However, wearing waterproof materials in dry conditions can trap moisture and perspiration, which can cause the feet or hands to slip, and could increase the potential for work accidents. In addition, no protective gear should be tight or restrictive. Space is needed for air to circulate and to allow your workers an appropriate range of motion.
According to the National Safety Council, managers and supervisors play a very important role in helping to protect workers from the cold weather. Although your employees may be aware of the dangers, after a long summer and fall period, some of those procedures may be forgotten or neglected. By reviewing standard cold-weather procedures, make sure each employee is outfitted with the proper PPE equipment and periodically checking in with employees, you and your supervisors can help employees remain safe in adverse weather conditions.