With weather forecasters predicting the snowiest winter in the UK since 2010, when heavy snow forced the closure of transport networks and airports, now is the time to be thinking about protecting your workers from the effects of extreme cold.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, by managing thermal comfort of your employees, you are likely to improve morale and productivity, as well as health and safety. People working in extreme temperature environments are more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make decisions or perform manual tasks is impaired.
The challenges of working in the cold
Outdoor workers at risk of suffering due to the cold include:
- Airside workers at airports
- Road builders, house builders and other construction workers
- Hydro and telecommunications workers
- Police officers, fire fighters, emergency response workers and military personnel
- Transport workers, bus and truck drivers
- Fishermen, farmers and groundsmen
- Divers and oil rig workers
- Outdoor recreation workers
There are also indoors workers exposed to extreme cold, including those working in refrigerated warehouses, meat packaging and meat storage workers.
Cold working conditions present three key challenges – air temperature, air movement (wind speed) and humidity (wetness) – that need to be addressed through proper insulation (layered protective clothing), by physical activity and by controlled exposure to cold (work/rest schedule).
How to select protective clothing for cold working conditions
There are four factors to consider when selecting clothing to protect workers from extreme cold:
- The temperature
- The weather conditions (such as wind speed, rain etc)
- The level and duration of the activity and
- The job design (how activities need to be performed to achieve the required results)
These factors dictate the amount of heat and perspiration that a worker will generate while working. Working at too fast a pace or wearing the wrong type or amount of clothing could cause excessive sweating, making clothing that is next to the body wet, dramatically lowering the insulation value of the clothing and increasing the risk of cold injuries.
In Canada, where temperatures regularly plummet to -30 or -40 degrees, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety provides essential and authoritative guidance on the protective clothing required for cold working and how to wear it:
- Wear clothing in multiple layers to achieve better protection than a single thick garment. The air between layers of clothing provides better insulation than the clothing itself.
- Having several layers also gives workers the option to open or remove a layer before they get too warm and start sweating, or to add a layer when they take a break.
- Successive outer layers should be larger than the inner layer, to prevent a tight outermost layer from compressing the inner layers and decreasing their insulation properties.
- The innermost layer should provide insulation and “wick” moisture away from the skin to help keep it dry. Thermal underwear made from polyesters or polypropylene is suitable for this purpose.
- Additional layers, such as a fleece or soft shell jacket should provide adequate insulation and be easy to open or remove before a worker gets too warm, to prevent excessive sweating during strenuous activity.
- Outer jackets should have the means for closing off and opening the waist, neck and wrists to help control how much heat is retained or given off. Jackets with netted pockets and vents around the trunk and under the arm pits (with zippers or Velcro fasteners) provide added ventilation.
- For work in wet conditions, the outer layer of clothing should be waterproof.
- If the work area cannot be shielded against wind, an easily removable windbreak garment should be used.
- As almost 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head, a wool knit cap or a liner under a hard hat can reduce excessive heat loss. Consult your hard hat supplier for appropriate liners that do not compromise the protection provided by the hard hat.
- If fine manual dexterity is not required, gloves should be used below 4°C for light work and below -7°C for moderate work. For work below -17°C, mittens should be used.
- Cotton is not recommended. It tends to get damp or wet quickly, and loses its insulating properties. Wool and synthetic fibres, on the other hand, do retain heat when wet.
Prepare now for winter working
The best time to prepare for winter working conditions is before they arrive. If you have a workforce that needs continue to work whatever the weather throws at them, then start drawing up your list of protective clothing requirements now and talk to the experts about innovative new clothing to protect your workforce.
Contego’s own Wearmaster® range, for example, offers a wide range of waterproof and windproof breathable jackets, bodywarmers and thermal garments, with superior thermal qualities, which work to keep the heat in when the temperatures drop.
Teaming up a t-shirt or polo shirt with a fleece or softshell jacket, and then adding a waterproof jacket is the best layering approach to take, as you can remove or add garments to suit conditions. Or go for the three-in-one jacket, such as the Regatta Defender III jacket, with a removable inner fleece.
Contego Safety Solution’s offers products with the EN5342 standard to ensure protection against the cold, and a one-stop-shop for all your winter working protective clothing needs.
Discover Contego’s range of fashionable, comfortable and protective clothing and PPE – download the Contego Catalogue now or contact our friendly team on 0800 122 3323 or email@example.com for advice on protective clothing for winter working.