From proper layering to clothing types, here are some things to consider when equipping your outdoor workers with winter wear to protect them from the cold
For any business involved in outdoor work, the right apparel for winter wear is a top employee concern. What factors are best for keeping workers comfortable and warm so they can effectively do their jobs?
According to the Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA), heat can quickly escape from the body in cold weather conditions, so the internal body system must make a greater effort to keep a steady, comfortable temperature. Aside from this obvious priority — conserving the maximum amount of heat — employers should be on the lookout for what OSHA calls “cold stress.” Higher wind speeds make heat escape the body even more rapidly during cold spells, as does excessive wetness or dampness (including from body sweat). Cold stress pushes down a person’s skin temperature and, if left unprotected, the body’s internal temperature as well. As OSHA notes, “When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Types of cold stress include: trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia.”
Here are other factors to when selecting the most effective, heat-preserving workwear for your employees:
The “Layering Is Key” Principle
Presented with these potential health hazards, employers should focus on the “layering is key” principle. OSHA and a host of other sources contend that at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing (inner, middle and outer layers) offer the best preventive insulation during cold winter months. Peggy Bolz at The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America provides more details on the three layers:
The inner, or “base,” layer should consist of clothing that’s soft, comfortable, thin and possesses wicking properties — that is, material that moves perspiration away from the skin so it can escape through the outer layers.
In this “keep you warm” layer, shirt, pants, coveralls and, if needed, a vest should be lightweight and loose-fitting in order to trap air, but enable moisture to pass through.
3. Outer Shell
This “protect you from the elements” layer should consist of clothing that’s light, waterproof, wind-resistant and has the capacity to breathe. “This layer does not need a lot of insulation unless temperatures will be below 0 degrees most of the time,” Bolz notes.
Outfitting for the Entire Body
OSHA recommends incorporating different types of protective clothing into your workwear to keep your workers sufficiently insulated in cold weather conditions. Here are some of their considerations for outfitting your employees:
- To prevent the loss of core body heat, equip employees with thermal insulated coveralls. These can help provide protection while enabling an individual to move around as needed for his or her job duties.
- A hood or hat may help prevent heat from escaping from a person’s head. For construction workers, operators of heavy machinery and similar outdoor job activities, have employees insert a helmet liner under their hard hat.
- The term “cold feet” takes on an entirely different dimension when you’re slogging through snow or slush on a work-site. Equip workers with insulated boots and multi-layer thermal socks (as noted above). Boots designed with a firm tread are best to avoid injury from slipping and sliding on ice.
- Cold weather work gloves are another essential. Many gloves are made to incorporate the use of a liner for extra warmth, while others have a fleece lining and water-resistant coverings for the palms of a worker’s hands.
- Finally, for those small areas of skin that remain exposed during the workday (nose, mouth, ears, etc.), encourage your workers to employ a skin cream, moisturizer or other applicable barrier to discourage frostbite.
Ensuring that your outdoor workers are warm and well-insulated means they’re better equipped to do the jobs you hired them to complete. It’s best to never skimp on the quality of winter wear you provide to these hard-working individuals.