Winter doesn't always mean snowstorms, frigid cold, and whiteout conditions. In many parts of the country, in fact, winter temperatures rarely even drop near the freezing mark overnight. In Florida, daytime temperatures tend to hover in the mid 60s to 70s. In these places, bulky winter coats and heated gear are probably too much, but workers still need weather-appropriate workwear. So, how do you strike the balance for light winter weather?
In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know when choosing winter gear for milder climates to ensure workers are both comfortable and protected.
Deciding What Type of Winter Gear You Need
OSHA provides only general guidance for outfitting workers for the winter – and even then, it’s largely applicable only to the colder climates in the northeastern United States. Employers and workers in warmer winter climates are responsible for determining what consists of an appropriate level of warmth and protection for their region.
If your workplace is in a region that generally experiences mild winters, there are a few things you’ll need to consider: temperature, wind chill, and rain.
Unless temperatures are unseasonably low and forecast to fall into the 30s, typical winter gear isn’t necessary. There’s no hard and fast rule about what type of clothing needs to be worn at what temperature, but these are helpful rules of thumb:
- 30 to 49°F – Insulated jacket, warm layers, hat and gloves, wool socks, warm boots
- 50 to 69°F – Warm base and insulating layers, sweatshirt, vest (if necessary)
- 70°F or higher – Light layers that wick sweat, breathable rain protection
Wind Chill Factor
Even in warmer climates, winter wind chills exist. In Tampa Bay last year, for example, a period of extra chilly weather with wind chill factors dropped to "feels like" temperatures below the freezing mark during evening and overnight hours.
Workers carrying out tasks when wind chill is a factor must account for this by wearing a windproof outer layer and an insulating layer appropriate to the forecast temperature (find out how wind chill is calculated).
Staying dry is part of staying warm, but not all outerwear is both windproof and waterproof. Rain can still fall during the winter months, especially in the warmer parts of the country, so a breathable but waterproof rain jacket is a must.
A light jacket is perhaps the best option, since it’s usable in both warmer and cooler weather – you just have to change the layers you pu\ under it to account for the temperature.
Using Heavy Gear in Warmer Climates Comes with Risks
When it comes to winter work wear, "the warmer the better" isn't always true. Wearing gear that’s too heavy and inappropriate for the climate can increase risk and be hazardous to a worker's health.
For one thing, heavy clothing tends to be bulky, which can impair natural movement. When this added bulk is required to keep the worker safe from extreme cold or to provide other forms of protection, the risks that come with restricted movement might be justified. But in warmer conditions, there's no reason to make that trade-off.
There are also health risks that come with using gear that's too warm. Rather than protecting workers, clothing that insulates more than it needs to can promote heat stress and other heat-related illnesses, as the body heats up and isn’t able to adequately cool itself.
Trench foot is also a concern. While it's a risk that tends to be associated with cold weather, it can occur in temperatures as high as 60°F. Trench foot sets in caused by constant exposure to wet conditions – and this can happen due to excessive sweating in boots that are simply too heavy for the weather conditions, or in boots that aren’t waterproof and are used in wet conditions.
Options for Light Winter Work Wear
Just as is recommended in colder winter climates, layering is also a good idea in warmer ones. Winter weather in any part of the country often means cooler mornings and warmer afternoons, and layering work clothes allows workers to add or remove layers to remain comfortable as the temperature and weather conditions change (find out How to Layer Your Flame-Resistant Clothing).
Cotton t-shirts are a common base layer in milder climates, but they tend to absorb sweat rather than wick it away. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can actually make you colder.
Synthetic fabrics are ideal for base layers in these conditions, as they quickly move moisture away from the skin and maintain a comfortable level of body heat.
The insulating layer should be light and appropriate for the climate. For a chilly day, a light fleece or thin wool sweater might work well. For warmer days, a long sleeve shirt (or even skipping this layer entirely) might be sufficient.
Weather Protection Layer
In many warmer climates, winter weather means rain and wind. In rainy conditions, the outer layer should be waterproof but breathable. Light windproof jackets are a great option, and they can always be removed if the weather warms up mid-day.
Note that wearing waterproof garments in dry conditions can trap moisture and perspiration. On dry days, workers may wish to opt for a light vest or sweatshirt as the outer layer.
Waterproof boots are also a good idea to protect the feet, though they don't need to be heavy winter boots.
Work Wear for Every Kind of Winter
Winter isn't always white and snowy, but it's winter nonetheless. In warmer parts of the country, it's important to have seasonally appropriate work wear, without overdoing it by buying gear made for deep freeze and heavy snow. That means combining light items that can be layered to deal with changing temperatures and weather conditions.