Safe Equipment Operation During the Winter

Tractor steps covered with ice and snow.

Richard PurdinOSU Extension, Adams County ANR/CD Educator

When winter weather strikes it can cause a lot of stress on farmers. Farm equipment is essential in today’s agriculture production setting. Safe operation of farm equipment is important no matter what time of year and wintertime is no exception. When it comes to winter injuries on the farm slipping on ice, frost bite, snow blindness or back injuries due to shoveling snow might come to mind. This article will cover yet another area of concern during the winter months, equipment related injuries and how they can be avoided.

There are multiple ways a farmer can get hurt operating machinery during the winter. Below is a short list of some ways you could potentially get injured operating farm equipment when snow, ice, and frigid temperatures roll in.

  • Entering and exiting motorized farm equipment- This can be a potential hazard year-round but during the winter the risk increases especially when steps and handrails are covered in ice and snow. During the winter it is expected that one would be wearing mutable layers of clothing, making it challenging to get through small doors or cab openings. This can especially true when entering and exiting skid loaders or forklift vehicles. Taking time to clean steps and remove snow or ice before mounting is important. Always dismount equipment going down the steps facing the equipment, never jump off equipment and use rails or handles for support.
  • Worn out tires or tracks- We often think about changing our worn car tires before winter, this should be considered for our equipment too. Worn out tractor or skid loader tires can increase the chances of slipping or causing collision damage to equipment. Making sure tires have good tread when operating machinery on concrete or roadways will help avoid incidents, injuries, or potential death.
  • Make sure Equipment safety features are work properly- Operating equipment on the road is hazardous year-round but during the winter slippery road conditions, poor visibility, and slower hydraulic movement can increase risks of roadway incidents. Make sure all hazard flashers, lights, and the slow moving vehicle sign are in place and visible to other motorist on the road. Driving slowly is important too. During the winter hydraulic systems such as brakes, steering, and traction controls can have delayed response on tractors and other farm equipment (especially older equipment). Take your time and operate at a safe speed.
  • Maintain Equipment- Proper equipment operation is important no matter what the season. Winter maintenance for farm equipment may require adjusting grade of engine oil, engine cooling fluids, or tire pressure. It is always a good practice to take time and inspect hydraulic and heating and cooling hoses for cracks and/or leaky fittings. Maintaining a ½ of tank or more of fuel will prevent fuel line freezing or gelling. Proper lubrication of universal joints and high wear areas is also critical for preventing breakdowns. Allowing equipment engines to warm before operating can maximize machinery performance and longevity.

Winter can be challenging. Safely operating and maintaining your equipment this winter season might not make spring come any faster, but it just might allow you to begin spring in good health and with properly working equipment to boot!

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Richard Purdin, ANR/CD Educator Adams County, can be reached at 937-544 2339 or This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team,