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Working outdoors in the cold has its risks, but waiting until spring isn’t always an option when buildings or infrastructure are in need of repair. Without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and layers, winter projects leave construction workers susceptible to hypothermia, trench foot and frostbite. Of course, the last thing any contractor wants to compromise on is safety.

Workers need to wear the right clothes and layer them the right way to mitigate common risks. In fact, team leaders should communicate the best practices for keeping warm during this season to improve their team’s safety. Rather than relying on a random collection of clothes, construction workers should take the following factors into consideration.

Dealing with Sweat

Ideally, workers need to wear layers that not only trap enough heat but also allow them to move around when doing their job. It should be easy for them to remove or add layers as their activity levels or the ambient temperatures change.

It’s quite common for overdressed contractors to sweat as the day progresses, even if they’re working in the cold. Sweat would be okay during hot summer days, but not during the winter. Once the workers start doing less-intensive activities, the dampness on their skin and clothes will cool down their bodies.

The right cold weather work clothes are made from breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics. Cotton, for example, is one of the worst materials because it tends to draw heat away from the body once water, sweat or rain falls on it. This effect can best be seen in clothes worn closest to the skin, like socks, t-shirts and undergarments, which is why cotton should never be the first layer in a contractor’s winter gear.

The Layering System Explained

The layering system should be applied to clothes like socks, jackets, gloves, pants and hats. It involves three layers.

  1. Moisture management: The main aim of this bottom-most layer is to draw moisture away from the body, allowing sweat to dry more quickly. This prevents workers from becoming chilled or hypothermic as the moisture evaporates. It also helps prevent odor. Among the best fabric options for this layer are polyester, merino wool, nylon and silk. Ideally, these socks, undergarments, long underwear, thermals and gloves are lightweight to leave room for heavier clothing later on.
  2. Insulation: This mid-layer assists in retaining body heat by creating a thermal barrier. There are many options for this layer, though thicker materials are often better. Some of the best clothing includes fleece-lined items, heavy wool socks, flexible denim jeans, quilted flannel shirts and thin, insulated coats.
  3. Wind and water protection: From heavy-duty mountaineering jackets to rubber work boots, the outer layer keeps wind and moisture from getting into the inner layers. While most of this clothing will allow some perspiration to escape, workers should opt for jackets, boots, gloves and overalls that have a durable, water-repellent finish.
Picking the Ideal Gloves

Choosing the right winter gloves for construction workers depends on the intricacies of their current project. However, whether they’re completing a roofing job or laying down asphalt, it’s essential that they pick a glove with enough insulation. Once again, the best gloves are those that comply with the layering system, including a thin nylon interior to wick away moisture, a fleece or wool liner for insulation, and a thicker leather or rubber exterior to protect from wind and moisture. The colder the conditions are, the heavier the insulation should be.

The level of exposure to moisture matters too. If the worker is doing their job in mildly wet conditions, they may need to look for gloves that have ample palm coating. This rubber coating prevents water from seeping into the inner layers of the glove. If they need to immerse their hands in water or snow, then gloves that are fully coated with water-resistant materials will be ideal.

Lastly, the right gloves should allow enough dexterity. While insulation is important, no one wants to wear thick gloves that hinder them from doing their work. Contractors benefit from flexible nylon and leather fabrics that offer bend and movement, as well as padded fingers and palms for added grip.

The Layering System is Like an Outdoor Thermostat

Comfortable, healthy and safe contractors are more productive. Therefore, team leaders should ensure everyone on the jobsite is dressed appropriately during the winter. Even if workers choose to remove layers during the day, it is essential that they carry them and store them away until the need arises. From nylon long underwear to fleece-lined, water-resistant overalls and jackets, the layering system will keep the cold away, while also ensuring enough movement to get the job done.

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