When winter arrives, it's extremely important to recognize the risks and hazards that come with working outside in cold climates. Cold air, water and snow not only draw heat from the body, cold weather also forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. Failure to understand or prepare for the winter dangers can pose great risks to those whose jobs keep them outdoors.
With proper planning and training, employers can help keep their outdoor workers safe during winter. Planning for cold weather work, wearing appropriate clothing and being aware of how your body is reacting to the cold are important to preventing conditions like cold stress, which occurs when the body can no longer maintain a normal temperature. Other common problems caused by the cold include hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot.
Protective clothing is the most important way to stay safe and productive when working in the winter elements. Here are some tips for outfitting yourself or your employees for cold weather work.
- Wear layered clothing. Wearing multiple layers provides better insulation. Take off layers as you get too warm and put them on as it gets colder.
- If possible, wear thermal insulated coveralls. The coverall design largely eliminates core body heat loss while allowing good range of motion.
- Take extra clothes in case you get wet. Dry clothing always help keep outdoor workers warm.
- Wear a hat or hood to help keep your whole body warmer. Wear a hard hat to work? Helmet liners under a hard hat are very effective at preserving neck and head heat.
- Choose appropriate gloves. Fabric and texture need to be suited to the job, but try to find gloves that allow you to use a liner. Safety gloves are available with Thinsulate(TM) lining, and there are cold weather work gloves that feature fleece on the top of the hand with a rubberized, water-resistant palm.
- Wear double-layer thermal socks and insulated boots. To avoid slipping on ice, wear winter boots with a strong tread. Spread sand or rock salt on any ice to help footwear grip.
- Wraparound eye protection can also help preserve body heat. They can also help prevent eyes from drying out due to cold, dry air and wind.
"There are many types of clothing options available for people who work outdoors in cold temperatures and inclement weather," says Adam Soreff, director of marketing at UniFirst Corporation, a leading company that provides work uniforms and business services to diverse industries throughout North America. "As technologies in the textile industry have improved and been applied to workwear, there are an increasing number of layering options designed not to impede employees' abilities to perform the jobs at hand."
Soreff adds, "Moisture wicking fabric technologies have also been a huge improvement in protecting outdoor workers. Oftentimes, people forget that workers sweat, even when it's really cold, and an important part of winter safety is ensuring that moisture from sweat is wicked away from the skin to help regulate body temperature."
Other outdoor winter work tips not related to clothing include:
- Stay hydrated. As mentioned, you will still sweat when working outside, even in cold temperatures. Keep hydrated by drinking water or other warm drinks. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Take a break. During extremely cold or windy weather, take shelter indoors from time to time to warm up before continuing work.
- Use a barrier on any exposed skin (skin creams, moisturizers, etc.) to help avoid frostbite.
In addition, your business should consider holding a safety meeting focused on the dangers associated with working outside in the cold winter. Explain the signs of and treatments for hypothermia and frostbite. Instruct employees to get inside if they begin to experience symptoms or, if they see a co-worker showing symptoms, to bring them inside immediately. Also, consider implementing a managed uniform rental program to handle garment inspections and maintenance, helping to ensure all workwear is consistently performing as intended. While working outdoors in wintery conditions isn't ideal, it can be done safely.
Meghan Marcus is PR and communications specialist for UniFirst Corporation.
About UniFirst: Headquartered in Wilmington, Mass., UniFirst Corporation (NYSE:UNF) is a North American leader in the supply and servicing of uniform and workwear programs, as well as the delivery of facility service programs. Together with its subsidiaries, the company also provides first aid and safety products, and manages specialized garment programs for the cleanroom and nuclear industries. UniFirst manufactures its own branded workwear, protective clothing, and floorcare products, and with over 225 service locations, 260,000 customer locations, and 12,000 employee Team Partners, the company outfits more than 1.5 million workers each business day. For more information, contact UniFirst at 800.455.7654 or visit www.unifirst.com.