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Can It Be Too Cold to Work Outdoors?

by Frank MacDonald on January 11, 2017

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“Cold weather” is a relative term. 40-degrees Fahrenheit is beach weather in Canada but to someone living in Florida, it’s a miserable, chilly day. But there is such a thing as dangerously cold weather, and it affects people in a long list of industries. This post explores some of those factors and how to stay warm (and safe) at work.

Cold weather gloves


What’s Dangerous About the Cold?

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) explains that the body works harder to regulate its temperature when the weather dips. And when conditions are too much to handle, you could suffer frostbite, hypothermia, and other damaging effects.The good news is that training, awareness and protective gear can help workers stay warmer, safer and drier when the winter winds blow.


Don’t Forget About Windchill:

The Mayo Clinic says temperatures below 5°F are especially dangerous and at -16.6°F, it takes less than 30 minutes for frostbite to set in.

But cold doesn’t just deal with the actual temperature, wind chill is also a major factor. The National Weather Service Wind Chill Chart shows a range of cold temperatures and wind conditions when people suffer harmful effects.

In -20°F temperatures, a strong wind can make it feel closer to -55°F and frostbite can happen within 5 minutes.


Want more hot tips for keeping warm outdoors?

Read our blog How to Stay Warm Like a Canadian!


Layer Up in Cold Weather:

There’s more to wintertime safety than bundling up in a heavy parka. Your knowledge of the weather conditions and situational awareness in a severely cold environment are also important.

The DOL says workers should plan appropriately for outdoor jobs. Awareness of the weather conditions, as well as awareness of how the body reacts to it, can save lives.

Layering up is better than bundling up in one heavy piece of gear. Whenever possible layer up like this:

  • A lightweight, moisture-wicking base layer
  • An insulating mid layer
  • A breathable but water-resistant outer layer

This applies whether you’re planning for a weekend winter camping expedition or spending the day working outdoors and it applies to both your core and your extremities — use a glove liner  under your work gloves to wick moisture from your skin.

Contrary to the traditional belief, Princeton Innovation says that we don’t lose more heat through the top of our heads compared to the rest of the body. Any body part that is unprotected will mean body heat is going to escape.

You should also consider having a dry change of clothing because dampness like perspiration intensifies the cold.

Cold weather gloves

Don’t assume you’re shivering because it’s cold, it can be an early indication of frostbite.

Medical Emergency Warning Signs:

OSHA says workers should recognize the emergency signs that a worker needs immediate medical help. They include:

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Clumsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion or confused behavior

Signs of frostbite include numbness, itching, burning, swelling, white patches of skin, grayish-yellow skin with a hard or waxy feel, blistering, darkening or blackening, and pain when the skin is re-warmed.


Prevention Tips:

When working in unusually cold weather, the onus is on employers and workers to look out for themselves and each other. The DOL also recommends:

  • Add training to raise awareness and preparedness
  • Take frequent, dry shelter breaks
  • Schedule work for the warmest part of the day
  • Work in teams, not alone
  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing, especially layers
  • Take advantage of sweet and sports drinks, especially warm ones, but skip caffeine.
  • Eat high-calorie meals such as pasta
  • Learn the dangers of certain pre-existing health conditions and related medications, such as diabetes and high blood pressure

There is such a thing as “too cold” for working outdoors. But preparedness has a lot to do with it. And so do physical condition, health and age.

Some workers brave incredible weather conditions that would keep almost everyone else indoors by a fire. If you don’t have the luxury of staying home when winter is its foulest, do the next best thing: always be prepared.


Learn more with this Definitive Guide to Winter Gloves!

winter gloves

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