HomePublic WorksIt’s freezing out there

In northern cities in Alaska, Minnesota and North Dakota, public employees like garbage collectors work outside in temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Have you ever thought about what it is like to work outdoors when the weather drops into negative digits? Residents depend on local public works staff to keep the streets plowed, garbage picked up and sewers clean. But how do they survive working in weather that has most people running indoors?

According to Randall Johnson, head of public works for Tower, Minn., the key is staying dry.

“In the winter, you get soaked from snow all the time. You can always warm up in the truck, but once you get wet, you stay wet for a long time,” he said. “We wear waterproof jackets, Body Guard Winter Guard Insulated Waterproof gloves and steel-toed waterproof boots. We do anything we can to not get wet.”

In a town that boasts the nation’s lowest recorded temperature of -60 degrees F, watching exposure levels is another important factor in staying safe from hypothermia. “You have to monitor yourself and get out of the extreme chill whenever possible. We try to get in as much as we can, but sometimes we don’t get that luxury,” Johnson said.

Tony Fennel, street department supervisor for Fargo, N.D., said Carhartt coveralls or bibs are his staff’s first choice for dealing with temperatures that can get as low as -20 degrees F.

“We wear steel-toed work boots, Carhartts and hooded sweatshirts. And we don’t go outside unless we have to, when it gets that cold.”

Unfortunately for garbage collectors, the job requires them to be outside much of the time. In Fairbanks, Alaska, Carhartt and Tingley are the preferred outerwear choice for Sean Rice’s staff.

Rice, garbage collection foreman and refuse supervisor, said when they see temperatures like -55 degrees F, operators all go out together to rotate in and out of the cab. “We tell everybody we want them to go home with 10 fingers and 10 toes,” he said.

“We are out and about in heated trucks and switch and take turns going outside. We try to make it as easy as possible on the workers.”

The city also provides winter gloves that are water and puncture resistant. “We have a problem with hypodermic needles from diabetes patients, so the city bought special liners to wear under our regular gloves that give us extra protection.”

Rice agreed water-resistant is essential.

Randall Johnson, head of public works for Tower, Minn.

Randall Johnson, head of public works for Tower, Minn., said that staying dry is key to working in winter conditions. (Photo provided)

“When you pick up garbage cans and bags, you get snow all over you,” he said. “Carhartts and Tingley jackets are popular brands among our crew to stay dry, warm and visible.” Because workers are often working in the dark, they wear reflective jackets.

Sometimes it’s so cold that getting wet isn’t an issue. “Carhartts are water resistant and pretty thick, so the water doesn’t seep all the way through. But, when it is too cold, the water just freezes on the jacket. When the crew comes in for lunch and the water starts to melt, we have a dryer to dry the clothes.”

Toni Polakovic, manager at Parker’s Outlet Center, Avilla, Ind., isn’t surprised that Carhartts are so popular among city workers.

When municipal employees are working in conditions like this, keeping their clothing dry is critical

When municipal employees are working in conditions like this, keeping their clothing dry is critical – as is the use of reflective boots or jackets. (Shutterstock photo)

“Everybody knows Carhartt is the most outstanding outdoor apparel brands,” she said. “The outer shell duck fabric material is very heavy duty. The long life span due to the high quality makes it worth the cost.”

Parker’s Outlet Center supplies towns and cities all over the United States with Carhartt products. “Most people who move around a lot prefer the mid-weight lining,” said Polakovic. “We also offer arctic weight—the warmest version—for people in extreme cold, people who get cold easily or who might be sitting for long periods of time, including activities such as ice fishing or hunting.”

While Carhartt wins the popularity prize for clothing, Surefoot offers winter traction ice cleats to keep workers’ feet from slipping. “It’s a simple product that pulls over shoes or boots to keep people from falling due to ice and snow,” said company representative Curt Ranum. “This reduces injury claims, workers compensation and loss of workforce.”


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