When working in freezing temperatures, it always pays to be prepared. Whether you’re working in a year-round cold environment such as cold storage or you’re working construction in the dead of winter, knowing a few cold weather safety tips can help you remain both functional and comfortable on the job.
So if you’ve recently taken a position that requires you to work long hours in the cold, there are things you can do to start preparing for your new job. Here are a few tips to help you keep warm when it’s well below freezing:
Fuel your body
It’s not a coincidence that you’re hungrier in the winter. Eating can give your body a temporary boost in temperature when nutrients are digested. This warming effect occurs roughly 30 to 60 minutes after you eat and lasts for several hours, so plan your snacks and meals accordingly. Instead of 3 large meals, eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day.
Certain foods also help you keep warm. According to a 2004 study published in Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers found that eating a balanced diet of protein, fats, and carbohydrates helped increase your body temperature in participants. However, a 2008 study published in Metabolism found that eating a meal rich in protein was better at increasing body heat than a diet rich in fat. If possible, keep nutrient-dense snacks on hand while you work in the cold. Protein bars are excellent cold-weather snacks because they are easy to eat in freezing temperatures and they have lots of nutrients.
Master the art of layering
The key to staying warm in freezing weather is by keeping your core warm. Wearing multiple layers isn’t enough—you need to know the role of each layer and how they all work to trap in heat.
Base Layer—Base layers are garments such as long-sleeve t-shirts and thermal underwear. These should be moisture-wicking to help keep you dry while you perspire.
Middle Layer—The middle layer should be lightweight and provide most of the insulation. These are usually fleece jackets that provide warmth without weighing you down while you work.
Outer Layer—This layer should be wind-tight and water-proof to block out all the elements. If you’re working in extreme cold, get yourself a rugged, cold weather coat that can withstand subzero temps.
Don’t skimp on cold weather accessories
When the body is enduring extremely cold temperatures, it tries to conserve energy by reducing blood flow to your extremities. This is why your hands, feet, and ears get cold before any other part of your body. To stay warm while you work, it’s essential that you don’t skimp on the small accessories that protect your extremities. Skip your chain department store and find cold weather accessories that are designed specifically to endure freezing temperatures. A well-made balaclava, neck gaiter, beanie, or specialty wool gloves can make all the difference in your comfort level and performance.
Invest in good footwear
Speaking of extremities, there is nothing worse than trying to work while your feet are wet and cold. Not only is this a dangerous situation which could lead to frostbite, but it’s also killing your productivity at work. First, start with the socks. A great pair of moisture-wicking socks made from merino wool will insulate your feet while wicking away sweat, keeping them dry and warm. Although your footwear will depend on the industry, your boots should be made for extreme weather. For the best cold-weather boots, look for a pair of shoes that are slip-resistant, durable, and have added insulation.
Learn to adjust to the cold
If you’re taking on a job that will have you spending long hours in the cold, you might try getting used to the cold in advance. Humans can adjust to their climate in as few as two weeks. In fact, this is a common tactic for triathletes who must swim in cold waters to complete their races.
Many factors affect climate adjustment, so it may take a person longer than two weeks. You can start adapting by turning down your thermostat 5 to 10°F lower than your normal setting. After being slightly uncomfortable for a few weeks, your body should adapt to the colder temperature. Keep in mind that this won’t allow you to brave subzero temperatures in a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. However, it will make you feel warmer than you would have before adjusting.
If you don’t want to swear off alcohol completely, at least limit the amount you drink. Alcohol can make you less likely to endure the cold by hurting your body’s heat-producing processes. Alcohol lowers the body’s core temperature and increases your risk of hypothermia. Moreover, it can make you think that you’re warmer than you truly are, which can be extremely dangerous in freezing temperatures. Although feeling cold is an uncomfortable sensation, it’s also key to letting us know when our body is in danger.
Don’t sit still
Sitting or squatting for long periods of time in freezing temperatures can cut off circulation in the body. This can put a strain on your extremities, which may already be struggling to send warm blood to these regions due to cold temperatures. When working in extreme cold, be sure to walk around and stretch your muscles. In addition to improving your blood flow, this will also help you generate some body heat to keep you warm.
Be safe, use the buddy system
Whenever you’re enduring long periods of time in extreme cold, always work with another person. Hypothermia is a scary cold-related illness because it can affect your thought process and hinder your ability to think clearly. Additionally, remember to take regular breaks to allow your body to heat up again. Although employers may not be required by law to provide breaks, many of them do have policies that allow for regular breaks. Don’t try to be tough by not using them! In most cases, your employer would much rather you take breaks to help improve your productivity and keep you safe on the job.