Working outside in cold weather conditions can be tough—not to mention dangerous. Luckily, thanks to advancements in cold weather arc-rated flame resistant clothing (FRC), it’s easier than ever to avoid the dangers of heat and cold stress without compromising on safety and compliance. Plan ahead for both safety and comfort by using all three layers of your FRC system— the inner layer, outer layer, and waterproof layer— to your advantage.
Moisture management is critical for staying warm in cold weather and avoiding dangerous conditions like hypothermia. This is because, if you work hard and sweat, moisture-absorbing fabrics like cotton will hold the water against your skin and can make you uncomfortably cold.
Plus, non-flame resistant base layers are dangerous to wear under arc-rated flame resistant clothing. These base layers can ignite and continue to burn in the event of an arc flash or flash fire and synthetic base layers can melt into your skin.
The best solution is to select an arc-rated flame resistant base layer designed to wick moisture away from your skin. Protective base layers:
• Allow workers to add an extra layer of protection to the clothing system while eliminating the risks associated with wearing non-FR undershirts
• Offer better breathability and moisture-management than traditional cotton undershirts to help workers stay warm and dry during cold weather work.
You might think that more clothing layers means that you’ll be warmer in the winter, but is that true?
While the inner layer of FRC is meant to keep you dry, the outer layer is focused on providing added warmth and insulation.
Industry standards require the outer layer to be flame resistant. Keep these important considerations in mind:
• Dress in removable flame resistant layers to help regulate your body temperature while doing physically demanding work. Flame resistant vests are an example of versatile garments that meet industry standards for protection and provide warmth without restricting movement. Always consult your company’s safety policy and hazard assessment before removing a protective layer!
• Loose layers provide insulation. Avoid tight-fitting outer layers as these can restrict blood circulation to your extremities—and can slow you down by restricting your range of motion.
• Make sure your flame resistant outerwear includes flame resistant insulation.
Rainwear is flame resistant protection that is commonly overlooked but is critical to comfort in wet work conditions. There are two key questions to consider when selecting a waterproof layer: Will it keep you dry, and will you sweat while wearing it?
Keep in mind the difference between waterproof and water-resistant. Water-resistant garments delay water penetration but do not prevent it like their waterproof counterparts; only waterproof garments can withstand heavy rain and wet snow.
Since waterproof rainwear is designed to keep water out, it can also keep moisture from perspiration in—which can dampen inner layers and make you cold. High-tech laminates or membranes repel nonstop precipitation yet allow perspiration vapor to escape. Despite a higher price tag, these breathable waterproof options keep active workers more comfortable than traditional rainwear using coatings.
Water-resistant outerwear is designed for strenuous activities in moderate conditions or when the biggest precipitation threat is a light shower, mist or dry snow. Water-resistant outerwear is typically more breathable, less expensive and lighter weight than waterproof rainwear.
The role of El Niño
Based on predictions by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), flame resistant rainwear may be particularly important in 2015 for outdoor workers facing arc flash or flash fire hazards.
A periodic shift in trade wind patterns across the Pacific Ocean that impacts the distribution of ocean water and influences weather patterns, El Niño often brings drought to the western regions of the Pacific Ocean and heavy rains and flooding in the southern United States.
Predictions show that this year’s El Niño may be unusually strong—likely the strongest since 1997-98. NOAA issued an El Niño advisory in March 2015, meaning that El Niño conditions are observed and expected to continue. Visit http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/ to review and plan ahead for the specific predictions for your area.
With cold weather coming quickly and the influence of a strong El Niño in the forecast, don’t wait for winter to get warm. Leverage a layered system to manage cold weather conditions. With consideration of the inner layer, outer layer and waterproof layer when making your winter clothing selections it is easy to stay safe, comfortable and compliant.