Work doesn’t slow down simply because the mercury slides down lower in the thermometer, and this means you need to outfit yourself with the right winter gear if you're planning to work in cold weather. If you fail to do so, not only will you run the risk of being physically uncomfortable, but you could also be putting your health at risk.

Health Risks Associated with Cold Environments

Prolonged exposure to cold or freezing temperatures can lead to frostbite, trench foot and hypothermia. When on the job in cold conditions, be on the lookout for the following danger signs:

• Confused behavior
• Clumsy movements
• Fatigue
• Slurred speech
• Uncontrolled shivering
If you or someone on the job site exhibits any of these symptoms, get medical help immediately.

Protect Yourself When Working in the Cold

To protect yourself and your co-workers, make a point of working in pairs or teams so that no one is working on their own in cold temperatures. That way, you can keep track of how everyone is doing.

Take short breaks at frequent intervals throughout the day to get warm, and change into dry clothing if your clothes have become damp while working outside.

Drink warm non-caffeinated sport drinks or sugar water while working outside in cold temperatures. Avoid any drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate or soda, and alcohol.

Wear layers of clothing that can be adjusted as weather conditions change. The inner layer should be made from polyester, since this will pull moisture away from the body. Cotton fabric will get damp or wet and stay that way, which will only make you feel colder when working outside.

Winter Gear for Working in Cold Places

Footwear Protection - Working in cold weather requires having the right footwear. High quality leather boots must be worn to keep cold and damp out. Treat them at the beginning of the season to ensure they'll be waterproof. You will also want to add thick felt insoles to protect your feet from cold seeping up through the soles of your boots. Once your feet get cold, it’s very difficult to stay warm while working outside.

Hand Protection - You’ll need to make sure that your hands and fingers stay warm while you're working outside. They're especially at risk for frostbite in cold temperatures, but you need to have sufficient flexibility of movement so that you can do your job safely.

Both gloves and mittens are available as hand protection. Mittens are the warmer choice as temperatures drop, since the fingers are kept together. When shopping for hand protection, you have a number of options available, including products made from leather, pigskin, latex, PVC, horsehide, rag wool, composite knits and more. Be sure to choose one with a liner for maximum protection.

Insulating Material on Tool Handles - When the temperature drops low enough, placing bare skin on metal is a health hazard. Since your skin temperature is higher than the metal, the heat from your hand moves to the metal (a conductor).

If the temperature of the metal is low enough, the temperature of your skin could drop rapidly enough that its moisture could freeze onto the metal object if it's below water’s freezing point.

All machines, tools and equipment being used in cold temperatures must have insulating material on their handles. They will also need to have larger grips to accommodate workers who will likely be wearing gloves or mittens.

Non-metal Tool Box - You’ll want to make sure that the tool box you choose to take with you when working in cold conditions is made from a non-metallic material. Plastic tool boxes probably won't be sturdy enough to withstand the low temperatures, and you don’t want to have to keep replacing this necessary piece of gear often.

Look for one made of sturdy resin or a similar material. If the handle is made from metal, it should have an insulating material on the bar so that you can pick it up barehanded if necessary. Be sure to choose one that's large enough to accommodate the tools you need to use on a daily basis, so you'll be able to take them to and from the job site with ease. If you're working in cold conditions, the last thing you want to do is have to make more than one trip to retrieve tools because your tool box isn't large enough for the items you need regularly.

Working in cold places is challenging but if you plan in advance, you can get your work done and deal with the environmental conditions, too. This is a situation where you can never be too well prepared for what Mother Nature might decide to throw your way.