Employee Uniforms, Workwear, Workplace Safety

Workplace Safety: Risks Of Working In Cold In The Wrong Workwear

Working in cold conditions in the wrong workwear can have serious consequences. Cold, wet, and windy conditions can put workers at risk for cold stress. Cold stress illnesses can range from bothersome (chilblains) to dangerous (hypothermia and frostbite). The best defense against cold stress illnesses is wearing the right workwear and learning how to dress appropriately. Read on for tips from dressing for cold conditions from head to toe—and how to avoid making critical mistakes!

Head, Face, and Neck

Common Mistakes and Related Risks

  • Leaving the head uncovered. Most body heat is lost through the head. When the body can no longer sustain a normal temperature of 98.6° F, blood flow will shift from the extremities (e.g., hands, feet, arms, legs) to the core (e.g., chest and abdomen). When this happens, the conditions are right for several cold-related illnesses—most notably hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Not protecting the face. Facial tissue is delicate and can be at risk for frostbite if unprotected in cold weather.

How To Fix It

Workers should wear a winter hat (such as a toque) with a balaclava underneath. The balaclava helps protect the face and neck, while the hat prevents heat from being lost through the head.


Common Mistakes and Related Risks

  • Inadequate protection for the hands. In cold weather, blood flow might be diverted from extremities to keep the core warm. This means fingers are particularly at risk for cold stress illnesses such as frostbite and chilblains.
  • Touching cold metal. Touching cold metal will cause frostbite faster than exposure to cold temperatures alone and should always be avoided.

How To Fix It

If technical work must be performed with hands, workers should wear thin, high-quality gloves under mittens—removing the mittens only when necessary. Extra pairs of gloves should be available in case they get wet. In addition, insulating material should be placed on equipment handles when temperatures fall below 30°F.


Common Mistakes and Related Risks

  • Not dressing in layers. Protecting your core (chest and abdomen) is essential to stave off hypothermia. To do this, workers should dress in layers that wick away moisture and provide insulation.
  • Wearing the wrong materials. It is critical to select the right materials so clothing doesn’t get damp, which might contribute to hypothermia. Cotton, in particular, should be avoided.
  • Wearing clothes that are too tight. Good circulation is critical to keep the blood flowing to extremities. Tight-fitting clothing that restricts movement and blood flow should be avoided.

How To Fix It

Workers should dress in three different layers and have an outer protective layer. Clothing should be loose-fitting to help with circulation.

The inner layer should wick moisture away from the skin and allow for ventilation. The best choice is long johns made of silk or synthetic materials. Be sure to avoid cotton!

A light insulating middle layer should absorb sweat and promote insulation. A thin wool sweater is an excellent choice.

A heavier insulating outer layer should keep warmth inside. A heavier fleece or wool sweater is a good choice.

Finally, workers should have a windproof and waterproof outer layer to protect them from the elements.


Common Mistakes and Related Risks

  • Boots are too tight. Good circulation is critical to keep the blood flowing to extremities. Frostbite often strikes on the feet, particularly the toes. Allowing blood to reach these areas is essential.
  • Feet are damp or wet. Trench foot occurs when feet are in cold water or wet for too long so feet should be kept warm and dry.

How To Fix It

Socks should be layered just like clothing. Wear a thin polypropylene sock under a pair of wool socks. All workers should have extra pairs of socks in case feet get wet.

Boots should be waterproof, insulated, and should not restrict circulation. Boots should be big enough to wear two pairs of socks and still have wiggle room for feet. If work takes place in snowy conditions, wear gaiters to prevent snow from slipping into boots and wetting feet.

Your employees are your greatest asset. Don’t put them at risk for injury.  Contact us today to help.



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Topics:   Employee Uniforms, Workwear, Workplace Safety