Written by Daniel Aday, CompOne Administrators Safety & Loss Prevention Specialist
It should not be a surprise that winter brings cold temperatures every year in the Midwest, which makes just about every job a bit harder. Whether we work inside or outside, everyone should have some means of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help combat the winter’s bitter cold. Although PPE may be the last thing to be considered for the control of a hazard, as seen in the hierarchy of controls, it is sometimes the only means of control for being in the outside elements. While most people think gloves when someone mentions protective gear, there is so much more that should be considered to ensure your safety and the safety of your employees. This may mean including things that you may have never considered to be “safety gear,” such as a base layer (or long johns), a decent pair of socks and a caffeine-free drink to help maintain body temperature.
The key to getting and maintaining proper body temperature during cold winter months is to dress in layers. And yes, to answer the question, this means for both those who work inside and out. Additionally, when working outside in the cold weather, there are both hazards of being too cold and of being too warm. Start with a lightweight base layer – something that alone will not be warm enough – yet still light enough that it can be worn with another layer – while still being cool enough to rest inside while not doing any physical work. The next layer, after your base layer, should also be something lightweight and breathable at the same or similar thickness as your base layer. The third layer should vary depending on the temperatures and your susceptibility to the cold. If the temperatures are above freezing, you would want medium-thick waterproof outerwear as this final layer. If the temperatures are below freezing, this should not be your final layer and it does not have to be waterproof, but something that is still breathable and heavier than your two initial layers. Lastly, if needed, an additional (fourth) layer as your outermost layer: a water-resistant and windproof zip-up or button-up layer.
The importance of socks cannot be overstated for personal safety, period. I would almost go as far as to say that if an employee’s job description requires them to work outside in cold weather for the duration of their shift, then an employer should either supply adequate socks or require that employees wear adequate socks. While there is no regulation in OSHA’s standards that specifically states the need for protective socks, there could be an argument for it in the General Duty Clause that OSHA provides, if there is a known hazard or previous injury with cold stress.
So, what make a sock a form of protective gear from cold weather? There is a combination of thickness, material and height of sock that differentiates a good sock from a bad sock! Preferably, for winter, a sock made up of wool, fleece, a combination of the two, or a similar synthetic blend, should be used. The reasoning behind this is that these materials are able to get wet, either from stepping in some water or from foot perspiration, and not lose their insulation properties! Depending on your shoe/boot selection and your preference, a sock should always be at least an inch higher than the top of your footwear. The thickness should depend on how cold it is and what physical activity you are doing. If you are on your feet often, thicker padded bottoms are preferred. Try to avoid layering socks and choose a single sock that works best for you as it can be difficult to take off layers of socks while working.
Lastly, caffeine-free and alcohol-free hot drink works best to keep your temps stable and keep you hydrated. Both caffeine and alcohol hinder the body’s ability to create heat, which makes the body’s core temperature drop, despite how it makes you feel mentally. Instead, enjoy caffeine-free tea, warm apple cider or even a caffeine-free hot cocoa. If you are interested in more help with winter PPE, feel free to reach out to me at 734-309-3456 or email@example.com.