Winter PPE Tips

People who love winter aren’t necessarily the ones who have to work outdoors in it. But there’s no need to get cold feet — or cold anything else.

Adding or swapping out some personal protective equipment (PPE) will help protect workers from hypothermia and frostbite and Jack Frost’s wintry grip. Here are a few head-to-toe tips.

Head and neck

You can’t, or shouldn’t, put a hat under your hard hat. A good solution if your head gets cold is to use a hard hat liner. These range from heat-retaining skull caps to tube and balaclava liners that cover the face and neck. Wash your liners regularly.

Scarves are verboten because they can get caught in equipment.

Hands

Choose insulated gloves and try adding a glove liner (not cotton) for extra warmth. If you’ll be doing intricate work that requires manual dexterity, consider wearing thin gloves covered by warm mittens; remove the mittens while performing the task.    

Body

Avoid cotton, which tends to get sodden, and anything tight. Think layers — three layers, to be exact. Air trapped between layers acts as an insulator. Wearing layers also lets you strip down if you start to sweat.

The base layer should be made of material that can wick moisture (thin wool, silk or synthetic). Consider polyester long johns for this. Top that layer with a breathable and insulating piece of clothing like fleece or wool. Then don a piece of wind-breaking, weather-resistant outerwear.  

Feet

You may want to buy waterproof boots or treat leather boots with waterproofing that still allows the boots to breathe. Consider swapping out steel-toed boots for waterproof composite boots, since steel traps the cold. Composite toes are made of material like Kevlar, carbon fiber, plastic or fiberglass and — bonus — are handy for projects that require workers to pass through metal detectors.

The perfect winter work sock is moisture-wicking and made from a thick, antimicrobial and breathable material like wool or comparable synthetic. Avoid cotton socks at all costs; once they get wet, they’ll make your feet colder. Wear a thinner polypropylene sock or sock liner underneath for extra warmth.

Finally, carry extra gloves, socks, liners — anything that can be switched out quickly on the job when what you’re wearing gets damp. Wet equals cold, and don't construction workers grind it out hard enough without the extra chill?

 

Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.