The harsh weather conditions in January — cold winds, snow and ice — are a regular reminder that winter is here for a while in the Midwest. Over the next four weeks, I will share the best ways to protect your business, employees and customers in a four-part Winter Defense series.

Work doesn’t stop just because it’s cold outside. Many will still be working outside throughout the winter, and protection against winter hazards such as frostbite and hypothermia is crucial.

When working outdoors in winter, the key is to dress in layers. You can always take a layer off if you get too warm, but if you get cold, you can’t add a layer that you don’t have. Follow these guidelines when layering:

  • Begin with a wicking layer that will pull moisture away from your skin when you sweat. Look for thermal underwear made of a synthetic fiber (usually polyester) that has wicking power. Stay away from cotton fabrics; cotton will absorb moisture and make you colder when the wind blows.
  • The insulating layers are next. Their purpose is to trap warmer air against your body and keep cold air out. Some suitable insulating layers are sweaters, sweatshirts, vests and pullovers. Fleece is a synthetic material that maintains its insulating ability even when wet and disperses moisture, which helps it to dry quickly.
  • Last is the protection layer, which serves as a barrier to the elements. It should ideally repel water and block the wind, while also letting perspiration evaporate. Oh, and don’t forget a hat – you can lose 60 percent of your body heat through an uncovered head.

These same tips apply if you’re working or enjoying winter outdoor activities such as skiing.

What extra precautions do you take when you’re outdoors in cold weather? Please share in a comment below.

Check back next week when I identify dangerous warning signs of primary cold-weather hazards like frostbite and hypothermia.

-Tim Hoffmann