Cold weather equipment at work: how to best equip your company and employees?

Last modified date

In winter, many business sectors are directly affected by the arrival of cold weather and worsening climatic conditions. Professional fields such as construction or delivery are most impacted by this drop in temperature, but others can be affected too. Whenever employees are required to work in a warehouse, on the premises or outdoors, team leaders or procurement managers must ensure that the best possible conditions are in place to carry out the required tasks. These improvements include the provision of cold weather equipment in the workplace.

European regulations on extreme cold weather equipment at work

European Directive 89/656 EEC defines the duties of companies and managers with regard to personal protective equipment (PPE). Regulation 2016/425 further specifies the definition of PPE as follows: “Equipment designed and manufactured to be worn or held by a person for protection against one or more risks.” This European text highlights the principles of PPE compliance and the obligations of manufacturers.

The consequences of poor protection against the cold at work

Exposure to temperatures below 5 °C in a professional context should be a matter of concern for employers and employees. Besides the real risks to the health and safety of staff, there may also be an impact on performance.

Safety risks associated with inadequate protection against the cold for employees

There are numerous health and safety risks associated with exposure to extreme cold. These include:

  • Hypothermia: abnormal drop in core body temperature;
  • Frostbite and chilblains: frost damage to body tissues (feet, hands, ears, nose);
  • Drowsiness;
  • Accident-related injuries (slippery floors, equipment with cold metal surfaces, loss of dexterity, etc.);
  • Reduced blood flow to the fingers;
  • Musculoskeletal disorders, etc.

Employees’ right to withdraw

Although regulations may vary from country to country, employees do have the right to withdraw from work in the event of extreme cold if there is an imminent and serious danger to their health or even their lives. This is also the case if the equipment or protection systems are found to have a defect.

If no suitable arrangements are made to protect employees from the cold (provision of suitable equipment, heating of premises, etc.), they can refuse to work without loss of pay. It should be noted that the legislation enacted on the subject does not always mention a specific minimum temperature. It is then up to the manager and the staff to assess whether there is a real risk.

Loss of productivity within the company

Failure to take into account working conditions in terms of safety and thermal protection can lead not only to serious health risks but also to a significant drop in productivity for the company.

Construction workers, refuse collectors, agricultural workers and employees in cold stores or slaughterhouses are directly exposed to extreme cold. The implementation of preventive measures and the provision of suitable equipment help them to carry out their tasks in a timely manner without putting themselves at risk.

Occupations and business sectors concerned by protection against the cold

All occupations involving outdoor work are affected by the wearing of extreme cold-weather equipment and the implementation of safety measures. In sectors such as transport, delivery or construction, for example, the climatic conditions in which employees carry out their work must therefore be taken into account.

These are not the only professional fields in which protection against the cold should be considered. All workers in cold rooms (restaurants, supermarkets, slaughterhouses, etc.) or factories are also exposed to risks related to cold. Personal protective equipment (PPE) against drops in temperature is essential for the safety of the workforce and the maintenance of business activity.

Solutions for professionals facing extreme cold

A number of solutions are available to combat the cold while working. Protection is ensured in advance through the dissemination of awareness-raising information to employees, as well as through the procurement of cold weather equipment for the workplace.

Internally disseminated information on how to keep warm at work

Besides the obligations imposed by European regulations, it is essential for all companies to inform their employees about the risks and means of prevention to combat the cold. Many accidents can be avoided by taking this preventive step. Workers in cold environments must therefore be made aware of the symptoms associated with exposure to cold. Guidelines on appropriate clothing, for example, should be posted so that all employees are aware of them:

  • Clothing with thermal insulation properties;
  • Dry clothes to keep warm;
  • Leather boots with rubber soles suitable for extreme cold, etc.

Employees should be encouraged to work in pairs as often as possible for mutual supervision and protection.

A limited area of extreme cold with heated premises nearby

It is strongly recommended to limit the presence and activity of employees in areas of extreme cold. Workers who are working outdoors or in environments with particularly low temperatures are advised to make regular visits to break rooms with heating suitable for extreme cold.

This also involves planning working time outdoors in winter or in places where temperatures are very low (warehouses, cold rooms, etc.).

Reducing the risks associated with extreme cold also involves snow clearance, safe access to the work area and the equipment used for work.

H3 – Clothing and footwear suitable for winter conditions

Protecting employees during extremely cold weather requires the use of suitable equipment. The availability of cold weather clothing should therefore be a top priority for companies. The provision of personal protective equipment applies to all staff members, who should be issued with a set of clothing to withstand harsh thermal conditions:

European Directive 89/686/EEC, adopted by all EU member states, insists that certain requirements must be met before personal protective equipment can be placed on the market. Work clothes that comply with these standards thus provide optimum protection for employees in the event of exposure to extreme cold.

Choosing clothes and footwear for working in the cold

If an employer has reasons to believe that their employees are likely to be exposed to extreme cold, it is up to them to choose suitable workwear for each individual. This choice relates to equipment for men and women, as well as accessories and work shoes.

Extreme cold weather equipment that meets European standards

The European standards can be used as a guide for choosing the appropriate extreme cold weather work equipment. The EN 14058 standard (jackets, overalls, trousers, parkas, etc.) is recommended for protection against moderate cold. Clothing that meets the EN 342 standard provides protection in the event of extreme cold.

For gloves and safety shoes, the standards are different: EN 511 for gloves and EN 20345 for safety shoes.

Cold weather workwear for men and women

Protective clothing and workwear should be chosen according to the temperatures to which staff will be exposed. The cold causes the body temperature to drop. However, some professional activities involve moving regularly between cold and warm areas throughout the working day. In this case, particular care should be taken, as movement can reduce the thermal protection level of equipment. It is, therefore, necessary to select clothing that is suited to both the cold weather and the employees’ tasks.

In winter or when working in a cold room, it is advisable to wear several layers of extreme cold-weather clothing. This provides staff with better thermal protection as warm air is kept in. Overalls and other “all-in-one” workwear can also be a good solution: they prevent air from circulating, which keeps the wearer warm.

Another important point to consider is that the size of the clothing must be appropriate for professionals working in the cold or outdoors in winter, again to prevent air from circulating. For example, female employees should be provided with workwear that matches their body shape and not just clothing designed for male employees, which is often too big.

The good news is that the range of cold-weather workwear is growing every year: jackets, parkas, overalls, trousers, overtrousers, etc. are becoming more and more effective. These developments offer better protection for employees and their health against the cold.

Protective footwear during cold weather

Cold weather protection for staff does not stop there. It also involves wearing suitable footwear. Safety shoes offer effective protection for the feet. Safety boots, on the other hand, keep feet warm, even in winter and when temperatures drop. Some are made with a CI insulating sole. This additional standard certifies that safety boots and shoes have insulating properties. Protection against the cold is guaranteed, with perfect insulation down to -10 °C.

 Accessories as extremely cold weather equipment at work

The choice of extreme cold-weather equipment at work must be based on the working conditions of staff. As well as clothing and footwear, protective accessories should also be provided to ensure the health and safety of employees. For example, in the event of exposure to extreme cold, it is essential to protect the head, hands and eyes. The idea is to ensure that the extremities are well covered.

For this purpose, accessories are available that are suitable for working outdoors or in cold rooms. The wearing of hats and balaclavas, for example, is especially advisable for professionals. Combining comfort and safety, thermal protection gloves that meet the EN 511 standard are also essential and protect employees from cold and damp during their work. Finally, the provision of glasses ensures that staff are better protected.

The installation of heaters in strategic areas in the workplace also helps to combat winter hazards. This health and safety policy should be combined with the introduction of prevention campaigns, which involve posting information notices for all employees. In this way, workers can keep the company going and also stay well protected.

If you want to find out more, see our article on our additional recommendations for working outside in the cold.



Lauren Warwick