Stay Safe, Stay Warm
By Chad Vankoughnett, Representative
Ah, winter in Saskatchewan. The air is crisp and clear, there is a hint of frost on the windows, and a slight chill in the breeze.
Who are we kidding? It is freezing out there! Even though it hurts to breathe and the very air threatens to kill us, the job still needs to get done. And that means someone is going to have to be out there in the wind and the snow doing the work.
Working in the winter is never fun, but it can be comfortable and must be safe. So whether you have been doing this for decades or you have never seen a Saskatchewan winter before, here are some tips to help keep you warm and safe through the cold winter of work.
Layers, Layers, Layers—and Layers
The key to staying warm when the mercury drops is layers. Most people recommend three or four thinner layers over one or two thick layers for optimal warmth and comfort. I call the three layers the wicking layer, the warming layer, and the weatherproof layer.
The layer closest to your skin is the wicking layer, and it should be a synthetic fabric such as polyester or polypropylene. Cotton is a terrible base layer because it absorbs and retains moisture, which will actually make you colder. Step away from the T-shirt and sweats and get yourself a decent thermal wicking base layer. These can easily be found at any outfitter or sporting goods store.
The warming layer can actually consist of one or two layers designed to breathe and keep the warmth where it is needed. You can combine a long-sleeved T-shirt with a fleece layer for really cold days, or if it is warmer, stick with whichever one keeps you comfortable. Find a fleece that allows you good range of motion while maintaining good thermal properties, and you can’t go wrong.
The weatherproof layer needs to keep you protected from wind and water. It needs to be strong enough to handle your working conditions, while still able to do its job and keep the breeze from getting through. A decent insulated jacket and overall combination or a good set of insulated coveralls will do the trick. I prefer the jacket/overall combination because of the extra layer of insulation over the chest, but everyone has their own preference.
These Boots Are Made for . . . Warmth
The same principle of layering your clothes works on your feet as well. Wearing the right socks will make a world of difference in keeping your feet warm.
Remember, thicker doesn’t always mean better. And if your boots end up fitting too tightly, the thick socks will actually reduce circulation and make your feet colder.
If you have room in your boots to do so, wear a thin pair of wicking socks against your skin, and a thicker pair for warmth on top of that. If two pairs of socks make your boots too tight, you are better off with only one layer. Remember that steel toes on a boot will transfer the cold very quickly to your foot, so make sure you have decent insulation in that footwear.
Keep a (Warm) Lid on It
I’m not going to talk about gloves and head wear, as there are too many factors that depend on personal preference and job requirements to cover every eventuality. Let me just say that you can’t ignore your ears or nose, and you should get the best head wear you can to keep the heat in under that hard hat. Keeping your head warm really will help you to stay toasty all over, so it is worth the investment in some decent gear.
Fuel the Inner Fire
One final note about keeping warm through our cold winter. Staying warm starts on the inside, so make sure you are eating well and fuelling the inner fire. Warm drinks on break and a hot lunch will go a long way to keeping you comfortable on the job.
Remember that your body uses more calories when working to keep warm than it normally does. So increase your food intake accordingly.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get through the winter season. Stay safe. And stay warm!