10 Winter Construction PPE Essentials Teams Need To Have This Season
Cold weather poses unique challenges on construction sites. Between ice, poor visibility, high winds and wet conditions, construction workers must take extra precautions to stay warm and perform their job safely. Here are 10 cold-weather PPE supplies workers should have, plus some additional tips for maintaining a safe job site in the winter.
Why is Winter PPE Important?
Winter PPE protects workers against hypothermia, which usually strikes in cold, wet or windy weather. The condition may lead to drowsiness and confusion, which poses a risk for construction workers, since they need to be alert and energetic when doing their jobs.
Frostbite can creep up quickly and unexpectedly. It poses a danger in its own right but also leads to hand and foot numbness, which can cause accidents when working on a construction site. People climbing scaffolds, moving heavy materials or operating machinery need good circulation in their limbs.
In 2015, weather was responsible for over 500 deaths in the US. Good PPE protects against slips, trips and falls, which are more prevalent in bad weather.
Lastly, dressing for the season keeps people comfortable and happy at work, making them more productive and satisfied with their working conditions. Employers should keep their team’s needs in mind when budgeting for winter construction gear.
Having the proper PPE for the season is an important part of workplace safety since it ensures people are prepared for whatever weather conditions may arise.
Winter Gear Safety Essentials
Here are 10 winter PPE items every construction worker should have:
1. Beanie or Hard Hat Liner
Hard hats may be thick, but they aren’t warm enough for winter since they don’t cover the ears. A beanie is a good choice to wear under a hard hat in cold weather. Construction workers can also use hard hat liners specially designed to wear with PPE. They cover the ears and sometimes the neck.
2. Face Mask
A cloth bandana, scarf or dust mask over the mouth and nose provides extra coverage on windy days. It also protects construction workers from debris on the job site.
3. Thick Gloves
Many construction workers wear gloves on the job anyway, but they may need thicker ones in winter. There are also glove liners, which are thin and insulative, designed to be worn as a base layer under thick gloves. This traps extra heat between the wearer’s fingers.
4. Winter Boots
Icy work zones aren’t always avoidable. Workers should wear winter boots with slip-resistant treads designed to grip icy surfaces to maximize traction.
Waterproof boots are also a good choice in winter since workers will probably come in contact with snow. The coating prevents snow from seeping through the fabric and melting inside the boots, keeping the wearer’s feet dry.
One downside to waterproof boots is that if water does happen to get inside — usually through the tops — is that it doesn’t evaporate quickly. That’s why workers should ensure their pant cuffs fully cover the tops of their boots.
5. Thick Socks
Cotton socks are a poor choice of footwear in the winter. That’s because if they get wet, they hold onto moisture for a long time, which cools down the wearer’s body temperature. Cold toes are more susceptible to frostbite.
Instead, construction workers should opt for wool or a synthetic wool, polyester and nylon blend. These materials are excellent insulators and have moisture-wicking properties. Soft, thick socks made from wool or synthetics also provide extra cushioning between the foot and the cold ground, adding even more warmth.
6. Base Layer
Construction workers should wear layers in winter to maximize insulation and make it easy to adjust their temperature. The first layer — the one closest to the skin — is called the base, and its job is to wick moisture away from the skin. This ensures that when people sweat, their clothes don’t stay wet and lead to hypothermia.
Merino wool, polyester and synthetic blends all make good base layers. As with socks, avoid using cotton as a base layer in cold weather.
7. Middle Layer
The middle layer, also called the insulating layer, is the second layer of clothing. Merino wool, polyester fleece, goose down and synthetic fill jackets are excellent midlayer materials. They trap heat close to the body without holding onto excess moisture.
8. Shell Layer
The shell layer is a jacket that protects the wearer against wind and rain. Ideally, it’s waterproof yet breathable. Polyester and nylon are common choices for the shell, and they often have a Gore-Tex coating so rain and snow slide right off. Workers can also spray on extra waterproof coating, which comes in an aerosol can, to bolster the shell layer’s durability.
9. Heated Clothing
Heated clothing can be a lifesaver in very cold weather or for workers with circulation disorders like Raynaud’s disease. It comes in two varieties: rechargeable, which has a cord that plugs into an outlet to recharge, or battery-operated, which usually requires AA or AAA batteries. Here are some heated winter PPE options:
- Balaclavas, which are full face masks that cover the ears, nose and mouth
Just like many construction workers rely on cooling vests and neck buffs during hot summer days, heated clothing is a winter PPE essential for workers in extremely cold conditions.
10. Eye Protection
People often don’t realize that snow reflects enough sunlight to cause eye damage if people stare at it too long. Construction workers should use sunglasses or goggles to minimize sun exposure in snowy conditions. Eyewear also protects the eyes from construction debris.
Other Winter Construction Work Tips
In addition to wearing proper PPE, here are some ways to improve workplace safety during cold weather:
- Set up a heated break area where people can rest. This can be as simple as a pop-up tent with heaters inside.
- Remove snow and ice from around the construction site.
- Sprinkle sand on walkways to improve traction.
- Provide hot drinks to warm workers’ hands, provide much-needed hydration and boost morale.
- Inspect the work zone every day before getting started. Black ice and heavy snow in the surrounding trees may pose a risk.
Protecting Workers from the Cold
Staying warm and dry is paramount for construction workers. Cold weather can lead to frostbite, hypothermia, slips, trips and falls, but quality PPE can prevent these problems. Winter gear is also important for worker comfort, morale and productivity at the construction site, proving the company cares about their well-being.