Trends in ... cold weather protection

Warm up to safety

Working in cold weather conditions involves more than throwing on extra layers. When potential medical problems such as hypothermia and frostbite exist, as well as more traditional work concerns such as fires and electrical hazards, special precautions must be taken. Luckily, advancements in cold weather apparel are making safety and compliance easier than ever.

Steve Misiano, president of Seattle-based DragonWear by True North, sees progress being made on worker comfort. “Soft-shell jackets are growing in popularity for heavy-workload jobs because they offer good wind and rain resistance and excel at breathability,” he said. “They are ideal for light precipitation and the heaviest workloads. Plus, they’re now made from inherently fire-resistant fabrics as well.”

Although it seems logical to assume thick, heavy layers will best keep a person warm, thickness may not necessarily be the most important factor in keeping workers comfortable. Breathability, however, might be. “More than any other clothing layer, the next-to-skin layer helps regulate your body temperature by moving perspiration away from your skin,” Misiano said. “Trapped inside your clothing, perspiration will leave you cold or damp, no matter how well your outer layer fends off rain and snow.” He continued, “Keeping dry is not only a matter of comfort, but important for avoiding hypothermia in cold weather.”

Misiano’s solution to this problem is to provide workers with clothing “made from fabrics that transport moisture away from their skin.”

Another danger is the potential to use flame-resistant clothing improperly in conjunction with cold weather clothing. Mark Saner, technical manager at Oxnard, CA-based Workrite Uniform Co., warned that “wearing FR garments under a non-FR jacket provides a false sense of security, as the protective capability of the FR is severely, if not totally, compromised in this situation.”

“The non-FR will ignite and continue to burn, which will transfer the thermal energy through the FR and onto the skin,” Saner said. “The wearer will sustain severe burn injuries.”

To prevent this from happening, Saner cautioned that the outermost layer must always be flame-resistant. He gave an example of the hood of a non-FR sweatshirt sticking outside of an FR garment. “The hood can ignite and the flames can propagate to the rest of the sweatshirt even though it is under an FR garment,” Saner said.

Working in the cold can be challenging, but taking the proper precautions from the beginning can help ensure workers are kept safe.

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