Insulate Yourself from the Cold

Date: December 27, 2022

Carrie Kolodji, Sr. Risk Control Analyst

Personal Protective Equipment for Outdoor Workers in Winter

Winter is officially here. Regardless of the inhospitable conditions that this season can bring, outdoor work still must be done. Employers are responsible to ensure all workers are prepared and protected to safely work outdoors.

The most common extreme cold exposure health problems for workers are frostbite, hypothermia, trench foot, and dehydration. Employees must dress appropriately and use proper engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to insulate themselves from the elements. 

Be proactive and train to safeguard your crew. In 2021 alone, winter weather resulted in 209 deaths and 254 injuries, according to the National Safety Council. Avoid being part of the statistics.

Wear Layers

When dressing for cold weather, adding layers will provide better insulation and help keep workers warm as the temperature outside drops. We recommend workers wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing—tight clothes can reduce circulation. Keep in mind that some items may restrict movement which could result in a hazardous situation.

Let's start with the inner layer of clothing. Choose materials such as wool, silk, Thermion, polypropylene, Thermax, or Thinsulate to keep moisture away from the body. Workers should select the weight of clothing based on the temperature outside and the level of activity they will be performing. Lightweight materials are better at wicking, and heavyweight is more insulating.

Next, the middle layer of clothing can keep workers warm by providing insulation. It can be removed if the temperature warms up. Choose materials such as wool, fleece, polyester, pile, or newer synthetic/natural blends or down. This layer of clothing typically uses features with half or long front zippers and adjustable collars and cuffs.

Finally, the outside layer is the layer that protects against wind and rain. Did you know that wet clothing loses 90 percent of its insulating value? This layer should include materials such as Gore-Tex or similar materials and be tough enough to withstand tears or abrasions.

Eyes, Head, Hands, and Feet

Frostbite is most likely to affect body parts further away from your core and therefore, have less blood flow. Fingers, hands, toes, feet, and nose are most vulnerable. Protect these areas with proper PPE.

Eyes: When the sun reflects off the snow, UV rays can cause eye damage. Workers should wear polarized safety glasses with an anti-fog coating, dual-pane, and include air vents for the winter months.

Head: Hats reduce the body heat that escapes from your head, keeping your whole body warmer. Hats should not interfere with the fit of other PPE, such as hard hats or protective goggles. If necessary, a balaclava can be worn instead of a hat.

Hands: Wear insulated and water-resistant gloves. Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin. Hand protection must also guard against other occupational hazards employees are exposed to in addition to harmful temperatures.

Feet: Insulated and waterproof boots and wool socks are a great way to protect the feet. Before putting boots on, ensure they are in good condition. Cracks and tears allow exposure to the elements. Footwear must also meet protective requirements applicable to the task being completed.

Finally, we recommend all workers carry extra socks, gloves, hats, jackets, blankets, and a change of clothing in case anything gets wet.

Proper PPE is essential to keeping workers safe against harsh weather during the winter months. Ensure that all workers are prepared and have the protection they need. BITCO Insurance is here for you! Click the button below to find a local BITCO agent.

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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