Winter PPE & Cold Weather Work Wear Guide
The type of weather hazards that outdoor workers may be exposed to in the winter vary by location and can change on a weekly or even daily basis. Everything from light to heavy rain and sleet, ice, snow, wind storms, freezing air temperatures, and even the winter sun can impact the health, safety, and productivity of your crew. Cold weather injuries that can occur on construction sites in the winter include frostbite, hypothermia, trench foot, and occupational accidents resulting from icy surfaces and low visibility.
While hypothermia is most likely at very cold (below freezing) temperatures, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain or sweat. Your body temperature can drop to a low level even if it is warmer than 50°F, if you are out in wet and windy weather.
That is why portable electric heating, layered clothing and outerwear, and cold weather work gear are crucial winter PPE for construction workers and other outdoor workers.
What do Construction Workers Wear in the Winter?
Most construction workers wear multiple layers of clothing to trap heat and stay warm in the winter – in addition to waterproof insulated jackets, insulated work boots, winter work gloves, hats, and neck gaiters or balaclavas.
OSHA recommends wearing “at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing, insulated gloves and boots” to stay safe in cold weather.
Some winter work clothes have insulation built in while other cold weather garments have removable liners. In general, look for moisture-wicking base layers and waterproof outerwear and work gear/accessories. It’s very important to stay as dry as possible because moisture or dampness from sweating and/or precipitation can increase the rate of heat loss from the body.
For cold weather work wear ideas, check out our guide to the best cold weather construction work clothes and gear including bestselling PPE winter jackets, base layers, and winter work gloves.
What is the Best Material for Extreme Cold?
Most cold weather work wear is made from materials like wool, fleece, and synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon.
100% cotton should be avoided because it retains water. Instead, choose a fabric blend that dries quickly and keeps water away from your skin.
How to Layer Cold Weather Work Wear
Wearing multiple layers of clothing is crucial for staying warm and dry while working outdoors in the winter. Thin layers provide better insulation than one thick piece of clothing. Tight clothing reduces blood circulation so choose clothing that fits comfortably.
Typically, three layers of loose-fitting clothing are worn on the upper body in the winter:
Base layers, such as thermal long john tops, worn closest to your body should be made from moisture-wicking fabric. OSHA recommends wearing an “inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic (polypropylene) to keep moisture away from the body.”
The middle layer of clothing helps you retain body heat. Choose a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, or hoodie made from wool flannel or a synthetic fabric like fleece.
The outer layer should provide wind and rain protection that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating. A high visibility waterproof insulated jacket is a good choice for extreme cold. A high visibility hoodie may be used instead on warmer, dry days.
Rain bib overalls or waterproof pants should always be worn in sleet/rain/snow conditions. Work pants like a heavy duty performance utility pant with moisture management technology or thermal lined work pants can be worn underneath. If needed, thermal long john pants will add an additional layer of warmth and moisture management protection.
Essential Cold Weather Accessories for Outdoor Work
In addition to base layers and outerwear, winter accessories help keep nearly every inch of your skin covered and warm. Winter accessories and work gear help reduce body heat loss while also decreasing the risk of developing frostbite in sub-zero weather conditions.
Head, neck, & face
Insulated hats and hat liners, moisture-wicking neck gaiters, and balaclavas are key winter headwear accessories.
A hat reduces the amount of body heat that escapes from your head. Knit masks or balaclavas are also popular in extreme cold weather because they cover more of your face without impeding visibility.
Loose pieces of clothing or accessories on a job site can be dangerous so scarves should be avoided. Neck gaiters designed for cold weather are a better choice. Fire resistant, moisture-wicking fabric designed to regulate skin temperature is a great choice for electricians and utility workers.
Insulated winter work gloves are important in cold weather because they help keep your hands warm without sacrificing dexterity. Pair winter work gloves with hand warmers as needed.
Choose wrap-around polarized safety glasses with anti-fog coating to protect the eyes from heat loss, dry air, wind, and precipitation – and, of course, harmful UV rays and sun glare. More protective eyewear options including safety googles and face shields are also available.
Work boots that are insulated and waterproof are recommended by OSHA for outdoor work in the winter. Insulated boot liners and foot warmers as well as warm wool socks can also be used to keep the feet warm and comfortable. Avoid cotton socks which retain moisture. Merino wool is lightweight and can help keep your feet dry and warm.
Use slip-on ice cleats as needed to protect your workers from slip and fall accidents in the winter.
Additional Winter PPE for Safety & Performance
It is crucial to stay hydrated, warm (but not too warm), and comfortable when working outside in the winter. Check out X1 Safety’s Cold Weather Protection collection for winter base layers, outerwear, and more. This collection includes FR and arc flash rated clothing and outerwear for inclement weather by National Safety Apparel.
Cold and wet weather certainly increases the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and slip and fall accidents. However, that doesn’t mean you can forget about other, year-round safety hazards and risks related to outdoor work, from electrical hazards and hearing damage to sunburn and dehydration. PPE needed for year-round construction and industrial work includes hearing protection and respiratory protection.
Winter PPE & Cold Weather Work Wear From X1 Safety
Contact X1 Safety today for assistance with selecting the best cold weather work wear and PPE for winter. Or reach out directly to your Account Manager at (248) 221-8076 or email Daryl.Hughes@X1Safety.com.