It feels like it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was writing a blog post on how to beat the heat at the construction site. I know it was longer than that but seeing how I was working up a sweat doing yard work in shorts and a T-shirt in near 80-degree temperatures just last week you can understand my mistake. Colder temperatures have settled in throughout the lower 48 with the exception of Florida and according to The Weather Channel the nation is experiencing the fourth named winter storm of the 2013-2014 season. (I’m not entirely sure which is more ridiculous, the fact that The Weather Channel is under the notion that winter storms need to be named or the fact that they felt the need to shorten Dionysus to Dion, albeit with a completely different pronunciation, for the current storm hitting the Northeast.) With the official start of winter just about a week and a half away and cold weather already affecting most of the country I thought it was the perfect time for some tips on keeping warm at the construction site.
- Layer up. The general rule of thumb here is putting on at least three layers. The base layer of clothing should have moisture wicking properties to draw the sweat away from your body. The second layer should be made of breathable material that will help to insulate the body such as fleece. The outermost layer should protect you from the elements. This means something that is windproof and waterproof. You want to make sure that your layers fit well and allow for a full range of motion without exposing you to the cold.
- Protect the extremities. We’re talking hands and feet here and they tend to get cold first because as our body temperatures start to drop the brain constricts the blood vessels in our extremities in order to increase blood flow in our core. A good pair of gloves along with wool socks and insulated boots can keep all the digits nice and toasty. A pair of hand warmers in your pockets is a great way to keep warm when working with gloves on might not be an option. There are a number of disposable and reusable hand warmers on the market. Zippo makes an excellent reusable hand warmer that you can find at nearly any sporting goods store.
- Cover your head. While it is a myth that most of your body heat is lost through your head that’s no excuse not to keep your noggin warm. A good knit cap or ski mask for keeping your ears and face warm. Get a good fleece liner that covers the back of your neck when working in your hard hat. Don’t forget the Chap Stick to keep your lips from drying out and cracking.
- Stay dry. If your clothes get wet and the moisture stays on your skin it will lower your body temperature. This is why it is important for your base layer to wick moisture away from your body and that your outer layer is waterproof to keep moisture from getting in. It’s also a good idea to have spare socks, gloves, hats, hard hat liners, etc. on hand so you can change them out should they get wet.
- Enclose your workspace. Obviously this isn’t always an option for every construction type and every jobsite. Enclosing a jobsite can be as simple as tacking up plastic sheeting over openings such as open doorways and window cutouts to prefabricated, modular panel systems and tents.
- Artificial heat. Get a good electric heater if you are working indoors or one of those big propane heaters that puts out radiant heat to gather around when working outdoors.
- Fuel your body with something warm. Make sure you have a thermos of your hot beverage of choice handy to warm you up. Get a good hot meal at lunchtime or bring an extra thermos full of soup. Your body expends a lot of energy when working in the cold so it’s important to keep it fueled up.
- Know the signs. Cold stress occurs when the body is unable to warm itself and can lead to hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat quicker than it generates it and your core body temperature falls below the normal 95°. Common symptoms include shivering, shallow breathing, confusion, loss of coordination, drowsiness, slurred speech and slow, weak pulse. If someone is showing symptoms of hypothermia it is imperative to get their core temperature back up. Remove all wet clothing and move the person to a dry, warm area. Use blankets, additional clothing and heating pads to increase their temperature. If conscious they should be given warm liquids to drink. CPR should be given immediately to an unconscious hypothermic person or one who has no pulse or isn’t breathing and 911 should be called for emergency medical service. Frostbite occurs when body tissue freezes and is most common in the extremities as these areas tend to have less blood flow when exposed to cold temperatures. Color changes in the affected tissue and loss of normal sensation are typical signs of frostbite. Rewarm frostbitten areas with warm water. Avoid rubbing the areas to warm it up and do not use heating pads to try and warm the affected areas. Call 911 and get medical treatment immediately if affected by frostbite.