Safety Leader

Toolbox Talk: Cold-Weather PPE

Tool Box image.

Toolbox Talk is a series of informational guides designed to help contractors hold short safety meetings on the job site.
Use the provided discussion questions to help start a safety conversation.

Choosing the Right Clothing

The best way workers can protect themselves from cold-weather injuries is to not work in the cold. Unfortunately, most don’t have that luxury. The next-best way is to keep workers warm, and that can be done through the use of cold-weather PPE. The basics are pretty obvious when it comes to PPE for the cold: clothing, socks and footwear.

Protective clothing is needed when work is done at temperatures of 40°F or lower. The selected clothing should meet the weather conditions—temperature, wind speed and precipitation—and be appropriate for the length of the job. When selecting, consider whether the worker will be outside the whole time and how strenuous the job will be. Multiple layers provide more insulation than one, thick layer. Layers also give a worker more options: if the weather changes, layers can be removed or adjusted according to the change. The innermost layer should provide insulation and wick sweat away from the body; thermal underwear made with polyester is good for this purpose. Other layers should be easy to open to prevent excess heat buildup. The outer layer should open at the neck, waist and wrists as a way to regulate how much heat is kept in or released. The outer layer also needs to be waterproof for work in wet conditions. Clothes should be kept clean and dry in order for them to insulate effectively. Some 7–10% of the body’s heat is lost through the head, so it is advisable to wear a knit cap or liner under a hard hat to minimize this loss. Gloves should also be used if the job allows it.

Preventing Overheating and Protecting Feet

  • To prevent excessive sweating while on the job, workers should remove clothing in this order:
  • Gloves or mittens (unless protection is needed from snow or ice)
  • Headgear and scarf
  • Open the jacket at the waist and wrists
  • Remove layers of clothing
  • As the worker cools back down, the clothing should be replaced in reverse order.

It is crucial to keep the feet warm and dry. Whether one or two pairs of socks is worn is an individual’s choice. It is important that the socks worn are able to wick away moisture and fit comfortably inside of the boot. Boots should be felt-lined and rubber-bottomed, with leather tops to allow the feet to “breathe.” Boots need to be waterproof, as well, if you’re working in wet environments.

Choosing the correct clothing can make the difference between a comfortable, safe day on the job and a potential trip to the emergency room.

Discussion Questions

  • At what temperature should you use cold-weather PPE?
  • What are the main components needed for cold-weather PPE?
  • Why is wearing layers important when working in the cold?
  • Why is it necessary to keep your cold-weather gear clean?

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