The Construction Workers’ Guide to Staying Warm on the Job Site

By: RK Mechanical

Working outside during the winter can leave construction workers susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite or trench foot, a decaying of the feet due to prolonged cold and wet conditions. In extreme cases, workers without proper personal protection equipment can also suffer shock that could even lead to death. Not only do workers need to stay warm and dry to prevent health risks, but it’s also important to eat properly, stay active and keep an eye on coworkers.

Productivity is often delayed due to harsh weather. So, work hours should be scheduled during the warmest part of the day. Below are some recommendations to stay warm, healthy and safe during the winter season.

Winter Clothing and Layering Reduce Injury Risks

Clothing should be selected to suit temperature, conditions, duration of the activity and location. Wearing proper clothing and layering can reduce sweating and the risk of injury. It’s best to avoid cotton material, as once it gets wet from rain, snow or sweat, it will begin to extract heat out of the body. Some alternate material choices are fleece, wool, Thinsulate, nylon and polypropylene. Weather can change rapidly, therefore it is important to plan and dress accordingly.

The top nine types of clothing to wear while working in the cold:

  1. Thermal insulated coveralls
  2. Thermal polyester underwear
  3. Fleece or wool liner for hard hat
  4. Insulated gloves, mittens should be worn for extreme temperatures below -17 degrees
  5. Wrap-around eye protection
  6. Scarves
  7. Thick socks: layer two pairs to stay warmer longer, but avoid a tight fit which restricts circulation
  8. Insulated boots
  9. Waterproof/windproof external layers

Warm Break Areas Help Re-energize

When spending long hours exposed to the elements, a warm area to rest will help workers warm up and re-energize. Breaks are of the utmost importance, but without a warm and comfortable place to rest, breaks can be useless. For long-term construction projects, setting up a warming shelter is a must. Temporary tents with portable heaters can be used for smaller projects.

Incorporate a Buddy System to Stay Safe

Avoid traveling or working on your own unless someone knows your route and estimated time of return. Workers in frigid weather can show signs of uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech and erratic behavior. Keep an eye on your peers to help them stay safe.

If a co-worker is showing early signs of Hypothermia, like uncontrollable shivering, apply these treatments to help:

  • Provide them with a warm drink or hot food to quickly restore body heat
  • Keep them moving to increase blood flow and warm the body
  • Provide an extra layer of clothing or blanket, if available, to prevent further heat loss

If more severe signs are present, such as slurred speech or erratic behavior, call for emergency help right away. While waiting for help to arrive, provide warm drinks, extra layers and heating blankets, if available.

Hydration and Good Snacks are Important in the Winter

  • Hydration is very important in the winter. Drinks with caffeine and alcohol should be avoided, as they restrict blood vessels and impede the body’s ability to heat itself. Make sure to consume lots of water and non-caffeinated hot beverages, such as decaffeinated coffee, tea or hot chocolate throughout the day.
  • Several snacks throughout the day are better than one or two heavy meals. The best choices are carbohydrates such as bread and bagels as well as cheese, butter and meats which add fat content to keep your body warm.

Save Your Skin from Freezing Temperatures

  • Apply skin cream to exposed skin to help avoid frostbite and ward off hypothermia.
  • Equipment with metal handles and bars should be covered by thermal insulating material and designed to be operated with proper grip using mittens or gloves.

It’s especially important to stress these simple points to people who may not be accustomed to cold temperatures. Holding safety meetings to help workers identify the signs and symptoms of cold-related illness and injuries and training them how to prevent and treat these injuries can save lives.

At RK, we take safety seriously and empower our employees to stop work if unsafe conditions exist. We encourage our employees to take responsibility for their own safety, as well as that of those working alongside them. Working responsibly in cold weather is no exception.

RK assesses how every aspect of our work integrates to improve your project. From conception through completion, we streamline the process while maximizing value. The combined skill set of our seven business units makes us the region’s most powerful single source for mechanical contracting, custom manufacturing, steel fabrication, prefabricated construction, facilities services, electrical work and water treatment solutions. If you would like to know more about our safety procedures or have questions about what we can do for your business, contact us at