Working in Cold Weather

Kent McGuire – OSU Ag Safety and Health Program Coordinator

Winter is around the corner and the day to day operations of the farm will continue despite ever increasing winter conditions such as colder temperatures, ice and snow. Farm activities such as feeding livestock, breaking ice in the water trough, cutting wood or loading stored grain can be increasingly difficult when exposed to winter conditions.  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. When working in cold weather, precautions should be taken to minimize the risk injuries like frostbite or hypothermia.

To reduce exposure, clothing should be your first consideration when working in cold weather. Clothing should be selected to suit the temperature, weather conditions (e.g., wind speed, rain), the level and duration of activity. The following are recommendations for working in cold environments:

- Wear several layers of clothing. Trapped air between layers forms a protective insulation.

- Wear warm gloves, and keep an extra pair handy in case the first pair becomes wet.

- Wear a suitable hat that provides protection for your head, ears, and even your face in extreme conditions.  Forty percent of a person’s body heat can be lost when the head is left exposed.

- Use the hoods of jackets or sweatshirts for added protection for your neck, head, face and ears.

- Wear appropriate footwear with warm socks. Footwear should not fit too tightly which could reduce blood flow to the feet    and increase the risk of a cold injury.

- Wear synthetic, wool, or silk clothing next to the skin to wick away moisture. Cotton clothing can lose insulating properties when it becomes damp or wet.

Additional safety precautions while working in cold weather should include:

- If possible, perform high exposure work tasks during the warmest part of the day

- Avoid getting wet. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), body heat can be lost 24 times faster when clothing is wet.

- Take short frequent breaks in areas sheltered from the elements, to allow the body to warm up.

- Avoid exhaustion and fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.

- Consume warm, high calorie foods to maintain energy reserves.

- Drink warm sweet beverages, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, to avoid dehydration.

- Work in pairs (buddy system), especially in remote areas, to keep an eye on each other and watch for signs of cold stress.

- Have a cell phone handy, to call for help in the event of an emergency.

- Shielding work areas from the elements can reduce wind chill or the chances of getting wet.

- 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.

For more information about the OSU Ag Safety visit or contact Kent McGuire, OSU Agricultural Safety & Health, at or 614-292-0588.