by Mary Farrington January 16, 2024 3 min read
As unprecedented cold weather sweeps across the United States, making sure you're ready for your jobsite is more important than ever. In extreme cases, failing to prepare can pose serious health risks. Prolonged exposure to dropping temperatures causes strain on your lungs, puts extra pressure on your heart, and can lead to hypothermia. In addition to the physical toll, cold weather can impair judgement and increase the likelihood of distractions or mistakes, which could be fatal on a work site. Even if you never achieve an extreme outcome, discomfort and the restrictions of the wrong workwear can limit your productivity and performance, forcing you to spend even more time in the elements.
The best way to protect yourself during the winter is to layer your workwear. But not all layers are created equally, and each piece of your arsenal has a different role to play in keeping you safe and warm.
The base layer should be a close, but not tight, fitting garment with moisture-wicking properties. Even when the temperature outside is freezing, your body produces heat and sweat as a means of cooling your core during strenuous activities. But if your base layer doesn't remove that moisture, you could end up causing your body temperature to drop dangerously fast. Pure cotton, for example, would be a poor base layer because it stays damp and loses its insulating properties once wet. Wool or synthetic fibers, such as Nylon 6,6, are the best choice for this layer because they can dry more quickly and also retain heat while damp.
The insulation layer should hold onto as much heat as possible. Average consumers often buy puffer jackets for this layer. But for a work site, wool and fleece are better fabrics to choose, since they breathe well and dry quickly. Make sure anything you choose is designed with performance in mind. That will limit any bulk you're wearing and make this layer feel more lightweight. Fit is extremely important on this insulation layer. If your items are too tight, they will restrict your range of motion, but if they are too loose, then they won't provide the maximum level of warmth. Also consider the length of any gear you wear, since your insulation layer won't perform as needed if it's constantly riding up or shifting to expose your skin during use.
The shell layer is your topmost piece of gear and should provide the most protection. Wind chill can decrease outside temperature feel, so make sure your shell is windproof, but that it can still breathe and move with you as you work. Where your inner layers focused on drying any moisture your body produces, this piece should help prevent any water from getting through. If not entirely waterproof, make sure your workwear has a DWR (durable water repellant) finish to keep you dry. As your outermost defense, this layer should also be abrasion resistant and have any additional safety features you need on the job, like hi-vis coloring or reflective panels. While you could wear a safety vest or another piece of gear on top of your shell, that could restrict your range of motion or prevent the layer from providing the best protection.
While layering is often considered exclusively for the upper body, make sure you're also protecting your legs. The femoral artery, which passes under the surface of the upper thigh, can lose your body a significant amount of heat if it's not properly insulated. Be sure to follow this layering technique with your pants, or at least add a fleece lined option to your arsenal for exceptionally cold days.
Regardless of temperature, the work across the country continues to move forward, and it's important that you are prepared in the face of any weather. Proper layering acts as a formidable defense, shielding you from the potential health risks associated with prolonged exposure to the cold. It also gives you a greater level of productivity and minimizes the chance of accidents and injuries. Though, even if you are completely prepared, you should take every opportunity to remove yourself from the cold during the day and keep extra layers available in case the temperature changes or you're faced with unexpected rain or snow.
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