Canadian winters are cold, making outdoor workers susceptible to illnesses like hypothermia and injuries such as frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when your body’s core temperature drops below the minimum temperature required for normal metabolic and bodily functions. Frostbite occurs when parts of your body are exposed to extreme temperatures and occurs when skin and underlying tissues freeze. If left untreated the skin and tissue will die, resulting in gangrene.
To keep yourself safe and healthy this winter, it is important that you dress appropriately for the weather, and make sure you stay active, eat properly and keep an eye on yourself and your co-workers.
- Choose the Right Fabrics, Materials and Fit
When choosing clothes you should avoid cotton and goose down. If cotton becomes wet because of rain, snow or sweat it will begin to leach heat out of your body, making you even colder. Avoid cotton socks, underwear and t-shirts in winter. Goose down is an excellent insulator when it is dry, but if it becomes wet or damp it loses almost all of its insulating power. Choose fabrics such as wool, polyester fleece, and polypropylene. Clothing should be loose fitting, allowing you to trap warm air between the clothing and your skin.
- Dress in Layers
Layering is especially important in winter so that you can adjust the level of warmth you need based on the temperature and the level of activity you are engaged in. You want to avoid getting so hot that you begin to sweat because the added moisture will cause your body temperature to rapidly decrease. Make sure you add layers as your activity level decreases so that you can remain at an optimal temperature.
Your clothing should consist of the following layers:
- Wicking Layer: This is the layer next to your skin. To avoid having your body temperature drop due to sweating this layer should remove moisture from the skin and transfer it to the next layer. Choose synthetic or polypropylene long johns and always avoid cotton.
- Light Insulating Layer: This layer sits on top of your wicking layer and should consist of a light fleece or thin wool sweater.
- Heavy Insulating Layer: A heavy fleece or wool sweater is useful here because it will trap heat close to your body.
- Wind and Waterproof Layer: Choose a coat that is waterproof and windproof so that your body can better trap the heat it generates.
- Warm Toque: Leaving your head exposed can cause your body to lose a lot of heat. Choose one that is warm, but thin enough to fit under your hard hat. A full face balaclava is also useful for protecting your facial tissue from frostbite.
- Gloves and Mitts: Mitts are warmer than gloves but are not always practical for work that requires fine motor skills. To help combat this problem opt for thin gloves inside of thicker mitts. This way you can remove the mitts if you need increased dexterity without exposing your skin. Make sure you put your mitts back on as soon as you are finished the task at hand.
- Socks: A two-layer sock system is excellent for working outdoors in the winter. A thin synthetic or polypropylene sock with a wool sock over-top allows for moisture to be wicked away from your feet, and the wool will stay warm even if it gets wet. Be sure your boots are large enough that you can wiggle your toes while wearing both layers of socks. Tight fitting socks and boots restrict circulation.
Fuel Your Body
Working outdoors requires your body to produce extra heat to keep you warm. Take in your calories steadily throughout the day in the form of 6 to 8 hearty snacks as opposed to 2 large meals. Make sure you eat lots of carbohydrates such as bread and bagels since these will provide quick, easily accessed calories. Cheese, nuts and meat are also important as they add valuable protein and fat content that will help keep your body warm. Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day, and avoid caffeine. Drink an average of 4 liters of water or non caffeinated fluids each day.
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