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Feelings in your hands that is!  Growing up my mom always said, “Cold hands mean a warm heart.”  While that may be true, in an industrial setting, cold hands can mean a dangerous situation.  It’s that time of year in many parts of the country where the early mornings and evening temperatures are a foreshadowing of the winter weather that is coming at us sooner than many would like.  You know, that first snowy morning where you start cleaning your windshield and even though your gloves are in your trunk you press on because it will only take a minute?  Cold temps on unprotected hands can be dangerous.

When our hands get cold we lose dexterity, touch (tactile sensitivity) and even our motor skills.  What causes this?  When exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period of time the thousands of capillaries in our hands constrict and blood flow is reduced.  This is when we start to fumble and drop things and that’s where accidents happen!  Generally speaking, evaluating hand protection for the cold is very similar to that of high heat applications and the primary two factors are temperature and duration.  One important addition to these two factors would be the presence or absence of moisture.  Moisture is like an accelerator in cold applications and only increases the speed with which we are affected as well as the severity.  Cold hands cause us to work slower, drop objects, be overall less accurate and can even cause us to lose situational awareness. 

Gone are the days when a red fleece lined brown jersey glove was all that one could find to keep hands warm in cold temperatures or a string knit shell to stuff into a drivers glove or leather palm.  Today there are a multitude of shells, insulated leather gloves (both drivers and leather palms) and even machine knits that are layered in various types of coatings for maximum performance given the application.  Even insulated cut resistant products are offered in more options each year.  The point here is, protecting workers’ hands from the cold is so much easier today than it ever was and we should all be mindful when preparing to work in cold environments.

If gloves are already worn in the application, seek a similar or equal product that is insulated.  Consider sizing, as most insulated products are slightly more robust due to the added insulation.  Modern manufacturing has taken this into account though and a wearer that normally wears a size large should still remain in a large.  It’s always a good idea to test up front if there is any doubt.

If a leather product is used during warmer months and there is moisture present, but not a real concern when warm, find a suitable leather glove that has at least a waterproof insulated liner and preferably some sort of exterior treatment to repel moisture.  There may be other alternatives though in coated machine knit shells that are insulated, just as abrasion resistant or even more, and waterproof.  Synthetic shells with more insulating properties than a standard cotton knit are available much more readily today and are less bulky when used in conjunction with other gloves as a liner.  This helps reduce the loss of dexterity that sometimes happens when “double gloving”.  Cut hazard?  As noted previously, there is a much wider offering of insulated cut resistant products than ever before.

Remember that red fleece lined brown jersey mentioned before?  Yup, still as popular as ever these days and in the proper application, its still just as good as ever.  It’s just not the ONLY option and workers today have a multitude of options for virtually any application.  Cold hands may still mean a warm heart, but working without proper hand protection in cold weather environments is just plain cold hearted! 🥶

JohnMazzola

Written for Safety Products Inc by John Mazzola
Director of Sales, Eastern US at Cordova Safety Products
View our other blog posts on Cold Weather PPE.

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