By Jim Bailey, Contributor
Changing seasons often mean changing priorities when it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE). During the winter months, as frigid temperatures, snow and ice take over and make getting work done safely more difficult, additional considerations are required from a PPE perspective.
From avoiding slips, trips and falls on icy surfaces to protecting against exposure-related injuries such as frostbite, it’s essential that employees are equipped with PPE designed to keep them warm and comfortable, without sacrificing safety.
Below are a few things safety professionals should keep in mind when outfitting workers for cold weather:
- Exceptional Stability
Cold temperatures can also mean sleet, snow and ice, so go with footwear that delivers best-in-class slip resistance plus exceptional durability. Outsoles engineered to withstand extreme temperatures, tridirectional traction lugs to improve grip on challenging terrain, a defined heel breast to enhance downhill braking control or rubber outsoles proven to grip ice are all features that can help ensure worker safety.
Also, don’t forget about fit, which is another important element for stability that can help workers avoid slips, trips and falls.
- Essential Warmth
While this might seem obvious, it’s important to keep warmth top of mind, especially as it relates to worker comfort and safety. There are many ways to stay warm on the job, but not all of them are conducive to other aspects of safety and efficiency. For example, a worker might wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm but end up sacrificing flexibility and comfort. In some cases – such as with gloves – wearing thick, bulky PPE may even limit one’s ability to do their job effectively.
Additionally, PPE that isn’t warm enough for the jobsite might increase the likelihood that workers will wear it improperly or opt for gear that doesn’t protect against other job-related hazards. Finally, it’s important to think about how items work together to produce the best results. For example, when it comes to footwear, having a good pair of merino wool socks will significantly increase warmth by wicking moisture and keeping feet dry.
- Durable Materials
The wet and cold conditions that often meet workers in the winter can take a toll on PPE, so durable materials are essential. Look for proven hard-working components to avoid malfunctions on the job. When it comes to footwear, choose work boots built to withstand the wear and tear of everyday use by opting for products made from premium leather and with direct-attach or welt construction. Choosing durable gear will increase the longevity of built-in safety features, ensuring safety over time and saving money down the road.
- Flexible Comfort
While on the job, workers need to comfortably move around without restriction. Although their PPE must be durable, it also needs to be flexible and move with the wearer, so opt for items with those attributes, such as jackets with 360-degree shoulder pleats or work boots with extra toe room to ensure proper fit for optimal comfort. Modern materials allow for more flexible, lightweight PPE options that meet or exceed performance attributes of heavier alternatives. It’s smart to explore the latest options to ensure the right safety gear is being selected for employees.
- Other safety features
While staying warm is often top of mind in cold weather environments, it shouldn’t be the only consideration. Cold jobsites often include other hazards, such as electrical arc flash or flashfire, and it’s critical to ensure workers are protected against all of them, not just the cold. Look for PPE options that meet safety requirements while keeping cold-weather-specific needs in mind.
- Details Matter
Small details can make a big difference and it’s important to keep them in mind while searching for PPE. For example, elastic cuffs and waists can better help keep out the cold, and windproof membranes and breathable materials are sometimes overlooked features that can be game changers during long days in the cold.
Cold-weather environments present a number of unique challenges that often require specialized PPE. While it might make sense to use some gear all year, items like boots and gloves should be traded out when the weather starts to turn. If you’re not sure exactly where to begin, look for a PPE provider that can act as a true partner to help you find the right safety equipment. A carefully planned PPE strategy for the entire year will ensure your workers are comfortable, productive and most importantly, safe on the job.
Jim Bailey is the Managing Director for the Americas for Red Wing Shoe Company. www.redwingshoes.com.