17th November, 2022
It's cold outside, and if you work outdoors, it might feel like there's no escaping the chill. Here are some tried and tested tips for how to stay warm when you are out in the cold. Let's get warmed up!
Working outside in winter is hard. And not just because it's cold - wind, ice, rain, sleet, snow, cold, frost - winter can feel like a constant battle against the elements.
And if you work outside all day - for example, in construction - you can't sneak back inside to warm up. You've got to find a way to win that battle against the elements.
Once you feel the cold right down to your bones, it's game over - it doesn't matter how tough you are. Your work will slow down, your joints will hurt, and your health will suffer (physically and mentally).
While there are laws and guidelines for minimum temperatures for those lucky indoor workers, there's no legal minimum temperature for working outside in the cold - but you should still be protected.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to make working in winter a little less challenging. Prepare to win the war against winter with these 12 tips for keeping warm when working outside:
It might seem obvious, but you can't stay warm unless you are warm in the first place! Starting the day warm can be as simple as:
But an extra tip to remember is that you want to be warm, not sweaty! Sweat and other moisture can make you colder (find out more in section 7 - stay dry).
Keeping warm at home is one thing - you control the heating and home comforts there - but you still want to be warm when you get to work. So what about the commute?
Wrap up warm (more on that next), and wear a hat and gloves. If you're driving to work, you can put your heater on too.
In cold weather, you need extra layers for working outside. On the coldest days, you will want at least three layers protecting your torso and vital organs from the cold.
Layering up is really useful for outdoor work because you can add and remove layers depending on the weather conditions and the physical intensity of your work. Is it starting to snow? Add a waterproof outer layer. Are you working up a sweat? Take off a layer to cool down.
Avoid cotton, especially in the base and outer layers. Cotton absorbs water (sweat, rain, snow)- this moisture will soak in and get you cold quickly.
Cotton clothing is a no-no as a base layer. Cotton will soak up any moisture that may build up but won’t dry out making you feel very cold.
Thermal clothing is a type of base layer focused on heat retention. If you need to fight the cold, thermals have a high focus on warmth. For most outdoor workers looking to keep warm, thermals are the best way to start your clothing layers.
You can even get thermal underwear!
However, if you do intensive physical work, you don't want to trap sweat against your skin. Sweat cools you down, and this can be dangerous in winter.
The best thermals will aim to keep you warm (trapping your body heat) and dry (wicking away sweat).
Any exposed skin is a place where cold can get in. With the extra layers, you should be able to make sure you can move around and work without exposing your body to the winter chill. Say goodbye to builders' bums!
You can tuck your base layer into your socks, wear a scarf or neck warmer, and a hat or ear muffs (if it's safe).
Cold and numb feet are a common complaint amongst outdoor workers in winter. The ground is freezing, often covered in snow or ice, and your feet might be in contact with that surface for most of the day.
So how can you keep your feet warm outside in winter?
The simple place to start is an extra pair of socks! Remember what we said about layering? Well, that applies to feet too!
But socks are not your only weapon against cold feet! You might find the biggest difference when you switch to suitable footwear.
If you work outside often in winter, winter boots with an insulated lining will help keep your feet toasty all day long. You might need to size up to allow room for the extra socks. Try them on with your winter socks to find the right size - you don't want your boots too loose and cause a trip hazard!
Waterproof winter boots will help keep your socks dry too!
This is an obvious tip, but it's still worth mentioning - wear gloves!
Most people work with their hands, whether you're typing on a keyboard/screen, or shovelling snow. But if your hands get too cold, they won't work. You will find it difficult to grip, feel, and do things with your fingers.
A good pair of thermal winter gloves will protect your hands from the outside and keep the heat inside.
Now you have gone to all this effort to be warm - you need to keep warm. The one thing that will get you cold in an instant is moisture. We've already talked about sweat cooling you down, but what about water from the outside?
Snow. Rain. Sleet. Hail. Frost. This type of winter weather is when you struggle to keep warm. And if you work outside, chances are you might be in the mud and sludge, with little protection from the elements.
If you start with a good waterproof outer layer (coat, trousers, gloves and boots), you can keep that weather at bay and avoid getting wet in the first place. But water has a way of finding its way past most barriers - it's only a matter of time!
Take a change of clothes.
If there is even the slightest chance that you could be wet by lunchtime, don't be caught without a change of clothes. If you get wet, having a second set of clothes to change into can be the difference between a miserable day at work and a good day.
At a minimum, always have a change of socks and gloves available.
Think about the times you can remember being cold outside. Was it when you were waiting for someone, talking to someone, or standing around for another reason?
When you work hard on a task, moving and getting things done, your body is pretty good at generating heat. On a sunny winter's day, it might feel refreshing and - dare I say it? - enjoyable! But when you stand still, you cool down and start to feel the cold.
When you are outside in winter, the best way to stay warm is to keep moving - if you need to have a meeting or wait for something (or someone) to arrive, move indoors if you can - ideally somewhere heated.
More rest breaks might sound bad for productivity, but the opposite is true in winter. If you are cold and miserable, your work rate will drop to a snail's pace. Taking a break to get warmed up is the best way to put your body back in a workable condition.
Ideally, you should have a heated rest area to take a break. If this isn't possible, you should at least be able to go somewhere sheltered to get a break from the elements.
On really cold days, especially in the bad weather, you'll need more frequent rest breaks to get you through the day, so you can:
It takes a lot of energy to work outside in winter - to do the work and also to keep warm. A warm snack or meal can give you this energy and add much-needed warmth to your body.
So in winter, you can get away with eating a little more if you work outside!
When you hold that hot bowl or plate, warm food and snacks can keep your hands warm too.
If you work in a temporary workplace, like a construction site, or a remote place - you might not have access to electricity or kitchen facilities to heat your food. Don't have access to a kitchen or microwave at your workplace? Heat it at home and use an insulated lunch box to keep your food warm until lunch.
If you don't have access to a kettle - and even if you do - a hot drink can go cold very quickly when you are outside in the winter. Our easy tip that solves this problem is a thermal flask.
One with vacuum insulation can keep your drink piping hot for up to 12 hours!
Hopefully, following the tips above, you will have kept warm at work - even though you are outside! But just like you started the day warm, now it's time to end the day warm too.
It's important to warm up after being outside in the cold, so you should get somewhere heated, change into warm and dry clothes, and enjoy a hot meal or drink.
Allow your body time to warm back up, keep your feet warm with slippers, and you can use a hot water bottle for some direct heat. Take a warm bath or shower if you need an extra heat boost.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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