In a previous article, Don’t Freeze Up, we discussed first aid techniques for hypothermia and frostbite in detail. The topic reminded me of my favorite Ben Franklin quote: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The cost of preventing trouble is always outweighed by the cost of repairs after trouble strikes, especially in the world of worker safety. Proper layering technique can help you make the most of your cold weather clothing and prevent dangerous exposure. It does this by helping maintain your core body heat and by protecting you from cold air and freezing snow.
When working outside in cold weather months (or when working in a cold storage facility), a good rule of thumb is to use three layers: an inner layer for wicking moisture away from your body, a middle layer to insulate you from the cold, and an outer layer that acts as a barrier between you and the elements.
For the interior layer, it’s a good idea to choose something made from synthetic fibers, wool, or silk instead of cotton. Cotton has a tendency to trap moisture and become soggy, rapidly increasing the danger of the cold. Other fabrics allow moisture to evaporate freely and staying dry is a major part of staying warm.
The middle layer is meant to trap air close to your body and keep it warm. Synthetic fleeces, wool, and goose down are great insulators and can usually be found in different weights to suit your needs. The website Sew4Home.com has a great little guide to insulating fabrics like Thinsulate™—a favorite at ORR Safety.
The outer layer is like your suit of armor, protecting you from the slings and arrows of the winter weather. It’s a crucial part of cold weather clothing because when your inner layers get wet, they become magnets for cold and cause your body temperature to drop. Also, it’s important to remember the effect of wind on air temperature and frostbite risk. The faster the wind blows, the more the temperature drops and the speed with which frostbite can attack increases. Not only will a quality outer layer keep you dry, it will help prevent those icy winds from slicing through your clothes.
Another key consideration is that winter can be a season prone to low-visibility. We recommend investing in high visibility, ANSI compliant outer wear, especially in foggy or snowy conditions. In addition to preventing accidental collisions on the job site, high visibility clothing can aid rescuers in locating you in the event you become lost outside.
There’s a variety of layer options beyond just upper body wear, also. Waterproof boots and socks, leggings and thermal underwear, waterproof coveralls, waterproof gloves and insulating glove liners; all of these are key pieces to the winter layer puzzle. Lastly, don’t forget about scarves, winter liners, face masks, and hats. Heat escapes through exposed heads and the frosty air is especially hard on ears and noses. They will become painfully cold and may suffer nerve damage if left exposed. This could result in amputation in extreme cases. That said, it’s equally important not to compromise your field of vision on the job, especially when working around trucks and forklifts or while on the road.
You may be thinking this is a lot of clothing to juggle and it may sound like a hassle to manage before your workday begins. We believe, though, that a small time investment will pay off in dividends all throughout your day as you stay warm, healthy, and protected. Remember: layering may be time-consuming, but a trip to the emergency room will be a much bigger chunk out of your day. If you’d like more information, ORR has safety experts ready and excited to help you craft a cold-weather clothing game plan for you and your workers. We’d love to help you build a custom winterwear kit tailored specifically for your worksite. Even if you aren’t ready to buy any products, worker safety is what drives our company and we’d be honored to partner with you and point you in the right direction.