Cold weather can endanger lives and destroy the well being of workers whose jobs put them in the midst of frigid temperatures and extreme weather conditions. According to OSHA, protective clothing is recommended for work at or below 4 degrees Celsius or below 39.2 degree Fahrenheit.
If outdoor workers are outfitted with proper PPE, their risks of getting hypothermia, frostbite, or catching a cold are greatly diminished. Bad weather and storms often limit visibility, so if the PPE has high-visibility features, the risk of being struck by a vehicle is also decreased. A side benefit of wearing proper PPE in harsh elements is that workers are more comfortable, thus their attitudes about having to work in the cold become more positive and job satisfaction levels increase… always a plus!
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that hypothermia results when body temperature is below 95 degrees and often occurs from prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Low body temperature has an adverse affect on the brain, compromising the victim’s ability to think clearly or to move well. Some warning signs include confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, shivering and drowsiness. According to the CDC, hypothermia is a “serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.”
Frostbite most often affects fingers, toes, the nose, ears, chin and cheeks. The condition is a bodily injury that is caused by freezing and it can damage the body permanently. Amputation can result from extreme cases. An initial warning sign of frostbite is pain and redness in the skin. If the skin is not protected, the skin area becomes a grayish-yellow or white. Or, the skin may become waxy and unusually firm or numb. Like hypothermia, frostbite requires medical care.
Multiple Layers for Proper PPE
To protect your workers from cold injuries, make sure their work gear includes multiple layers versus single layers. Multi-layered clothing produces air pockets which trap air, providing thermal insulation. Three layers of protection are ideal: inner, middle and outer.
The inner layer should be a wicking material, such as polyester, silk or polypropylene that draws moisture away from the skin. This inner layer is very important. If moisture wicking does not occur, the thermal insulation of clothing decrease 30% to 50%.
A lightweight, insulating middle layer made of thermal fleece, down or wool is next. If the middle layer is easily removable, such as zip out removable fleece jacket, the worker can customize his comfort to prevent excessive sweating during strenuous activity.
Finally, the outer layer is for wind and water protection. Specify breathable, water-repellent outer fabrics, such as 300 Denier PU coated rip stop polyester that is breathable per ANSI 107. 7.6 standards (ASTME96-05).
Multiple Pieces of PPE are Essential
In addition to multiple layers, workers need to wear multiple pieces of PPE to protect their entire body from cold stress. This includes head, hand and foot protection.
It is estimated that 40% to 50% of body heat is lost through the head. Plus, frostbite frequently affects the ears, nose, checks and chin. Wearing protective head gear, such as a liner under a hard hat, helps to reduce heat loss and the risk of frostbite. Then of course, the hard hat protects the worker from wind and rain and other hazards. Head gear is also easily removable helping to decrease body temperature when overheated from increased activity.
Hand and Foot Protection
It is critical to protect workers hands and feet from cold weather stress as frostbite has claimed numerous fingers and toes. Severe frostbite cases can often lead to amputation so it is very important to provide quality hand and foot protection. Choose insulated and water resistant gloves and footwear, whose design features apply to the specific tasks of the workers.
Multiple Product Features for Warmth and Comfort
When buying cold weather PPE, make sure the products you select have multiple product features that provide additional warmth, comfort and protection. Some of these features include:
• Removable hoods
• Adjustable cuffs
• Thermal lined pockets
• Breathable mesh
• Waterproof and breathable PU coatings
• Elasticized waistband and wrist cuffs
• Zip out removable fleece jacket
• High visibility material and silver reflective tape
• Ergonomically designed products