Kent McGuire – OSU Ag Safety and Health Coordinator
Winter is around the corner and the day to day operations of the farm will continue despite bitter cold, freezing rain, or significant snowfall amounts. No matter what the conditions are outside, there is still work to be done around the farm such as feeding livestock, breaking ice in the water trough, cutting wood or loading stored grain. Even though it may be tempting to “tough it out” or “work through it”, prolonged exposure to cold, wet, and windy conditions, can be dangerous, even at temperatures above freezing. Layered clothing is a necessity, but can be restrictive to the range of motion in your body movements. Individuals who continue to perform work activities in winter conditions are at a higher risk of a variety on injuries including: frostbite, overexertion, muscle strain, slips trips and falls, or heart attack. Some simple guidelines for reducing the risk of injury in winter working conditions include:
- Plan ahead and wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions, even a simple task may take longer to complete than planned. Remove or replace wet or damp clothing as soon as possible, including gloves.
- If possible, perform work during the warmest part of the day and take frequent short breaks in a warm dry area to allow the body to rest and warm up.
- Keep travel paths free from ice and snow. Be observant to areas such as water troughs or leaking roofs / gutters, where liquids may have splashed and have frozen.
- When shoveling snow or removing ice: Stretch your muscles before you begin. Don't overload the shovel, and take frequent breaks to stretch your back. Bend your knees and let your legs do the lifting. Avoid twisting motions which can lead to muscle sprain / strain injuries.
- When walking on an icy or snow covered areas, take short steps and walk at a slower pace so you can react quickly to a change in traction.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets when walking. This can reduce the risk of you falling or completely losing your balance in case you slip while walking on ice or snow.
- Use 3 points of contact when mounting or dismounting equipment (1 hand / 2 feet) or (2 hands / 1 foot). Be observant to potentially hazardous ground conditions when dismounting equipment.
- During the daytime, wear sunglasses to reduce glare and protect your eyes from UV rays being reflected by snowy ground cover.
-When transitioning from the bright outdoor environment to indoor areas, stop briefly to allow your vision to catch up with the change in lighting.
- Snow removal operations such as plowing, sweeping, and snowblowing can reduce visibility to near zero in the immediate area. Utilize a visual reference point to stay on course and avoid any potential hazards.
- Use caution with gas powered equipment. Dangerous carbon monoxide can be generated by gas-powered equipment as well as alternative heating sources. Use these items only in well-ventilated areas.
- Watch for signs of frostbite: loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, seek a warm location, remove any wet clothing, warm the center of the body first, and get medical help as soon as possible.