Winter Tips for Staying Warm While Working Outdoors

Chilly Chicago winters drive many people indoors, but what if your job requires you to work outside? Cold weather injuries can keep you out of work for weeks and could lead to chronic health issues.

Layering your clothing and picking the right fabrics can help you stay toasty and dry. Several thin layers of clothing provide better insulation, trapping warmth better than one or two thick layers. As temperatures rise, you can gradually remove layers to moderate your body temperature.

Even with our tips for how to stay warm while working outside, you may still suffer from a weather-related injury. If you have, contact Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates for a free consultation with an experienced Chicago workers’ compensation attorney.

how to stay warm while working outside

Staying warm while working outside: Clothing tips

Here are some easy-to-follow layering rules to help you learn how to stay warm working outside.

Long underwear

Wear long underwear made from a wicking material as your first layer. Wicking material is popular among athletes to keep moisture away from our skin. Avoid cotton; look for long underwear made from synthetic fabrics like polypropylene.

Mid layer

Look for wool or synthetic fabric for a middle layer. These types of cloth absorb the moisture wicked away by your underwear and help it evaporate. Your mid-layer garments should be snugly fitting, trapping air between the layers to contain your body heat.

Usually, your mid-layer is your daily uniform, pants, or shirt. However, you may opt to wear two mid-layers on especially cold days.

Insulation layer

A warm coat switch a few inches thick is your “insulation layer.” Look for one with synthetic insulation and a water-resistant outer layer.

Shell layer

A shell layer reduces the impact of wind and, according to the U.S. Antarctic Program, can add up to 25 degrees of warmth in still air and more than 50 degrees of warmth on windy days.

Wind shell layers are lightweight, soft fabric treated to stop wind and water. Wind shells typically have little or no insulation, so you still need insulating layers. The protection a shell offers complements the insulating lower layers.

Other tips for staying warm while working outside

Knowing what kind of clothing you need to stay warm is just part of reducing the chance of a cold weather injury. You can also keep warmer by:

  • Wearing a hat (you lose heat through your head)
  • Wearing ear covers and a neck gator for wind protection
  • Using hand and foot warmers inside your socks or gloves
  • Opting for wool socks and wool-lined gloves instead of synthetic

What you eat is just as important as what you wear. Eat plenty of nutrient-dense calories and stay hydrated, drinking plenty of warm liquids (not alcohol).

Emergency response and first aid for cold weather injuries

Although there is no substitute for trained medical attention, these first-aid steps for cold weather injuries can help stabilize someone in distress until EMS arrives:

  • Move the person to a warm shelter
  • Remove any wet clothing
  • Warm the core first, then the extremities
  • Provide warm beverages
  • Begin CPR if the person has no pulse
  • Call 911

Who is most at risk for cold weather-related injury?

Employees at a higher risk include:

  • Construction workers
  • Landscapers
  • Waste removal service workers
  • Snow removal crews
  • City maintenance workers
  • Outdoor recreational facility employees
  • First responders

Legal rights of workers in cold weather conditions

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 covers workers’ rights and employer responsibilities for working. Employers must provide workers with a job site free of recognized hazards, including snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures.

If the weather conditions are likely to cause serious harm to workers, they may report the conditions as hazardous either to their employer or anonymously to IL-OSHA.

Workers have the right to request an OSHA inspection of the job site if they believe unsafe conditions are present. They also have the right to stop work if they are in danger of immediate harm.

What responsibilities do employers have to keep workers warm?

OSHA states that employers have certain responsibilities, including:

Cold weather injury prevention training

Employers must provide certain training for cold stress:

  • Recognizing symptoms of cold stress
  • Preventing cold stress injury and illness
  • How to select the right clothing for cold and windy weather
  • First aid for cold stress injury
  • Recognizing other hazards in cold weather like wind, slippery roads, outdoor spaces, or downed power lines

Employer-provided engineering controls

Engineering controls can reduce the risk of cold stress and cold weather injuries. Stationary workers may be shielded from radiant heaters. Employers may also shield workers from drafts or wind gusts where possible.

Deicing materials should be applied to ladders and aerial lifts and to other areas where ice may accumulate and pose a danger.

Implementing safe work practices in cold weather

Some safe work practices employers should require include:

  • Providing proper tools and equipment to do the job
  • Developing plans to identify potential hazards
  • Placing safety measures to protect workers from identified hazards
  • Schedule jobs to be completed during warmer parts of the day
  • Reschedule repairs and maintenance for warmer months
  • Limit time spent outside on cold and windy days
  • Use relief workers for longer or more demanding outside jobs
  • Provide warm break areas and warm liquids to drink
  • Monitor workers in at-risk conditions
  • Have a reliable means of communication with workers to inform them when to stop work or evacuate the area
  • Provide protective clothing for warmth

The role of Illinois Workers’ Compensation for cold weather work injuries

Most employees in Illinois are covered by workers’ compensation benefits, an employer-sponsored form of insurance that pays for medical care after a workplace injury.

If you suffered injury due to your working conditions, you may file a claim with your employer and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.