From the slip hazard of icy grain-bin ladders to trucks skidding on snow, winter can pose dangerous risks to people and equipment on farms. Winter incidents may include frostbite and hypothermia, falls, drowning in an unmarked body of frozen water that cracked, and equipment that doesn’t start easily in cold weather.
With all the work that needs to be accomplished on a farm during the winter months, it’s important to be aware of the hazards colder weather brings and make an action plan to overcome them. By taking steps to mitigate these risks, farmers can protect themselves, their workers, and their equipment from harm while continuing to operate safely and efficiently during the frosty season.
Here are seven tips for winter farm safety.
Don’t wait until a winter storm is brewing to begin gathering supplies that you may need during inclement weather. By then, it may be too late to drive to the nearest store to stock up and, even if you do make it to the store, supplies may be scarce. Prepare in advance.
When conditions do become severe, you’ll want to ensure that you already have everything on hand that you need to comfortably manage a variety of conditions. These conditions could include being snowed in and unable to drive, a blackout, and freezing temperatures.
Therefore, it’s important to ensure you have the food and water, medication, tools, and supplies you need to get through whatever conditions you may face for several days. It’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared.
Before the cold weather even hits, stock a winter survival kit for your farm and put it in a secure location that is easy to reach no matter the weather. Consider these items for your winter survival kit:
Reusable phone charger
Flashlight with extra batteries
Matches and candles
First aid kit
Work chores on the farm don’t stop because of cold weather. It’s important, therefore, to have a plan in place for how to work safely when temperatures drop and what to do if conditions become dangerous. The plan should include tending to matters related to the farm and taking care of the people working and living on the farm.
A winter preparedness plan for a farm should encompass ensuring the land, equipment, and supplies are in safe working condition and that livestock are kept safe. It should be a team effort to keep an eye on these matters as their status can change quickly. Consider the following:
If using equipment, do you have enough gas? Try to keep gas tanks full.
Are walkways clear and free of slips, trips, and fall hazards? If you notice a potential danger, alert the rest of the team.
Are bodies of water beginning to freeze? Clearly mark them, and take caution that just because they look solid doesn’t mean they can withstand the weight of livestock or a human body.
Is it safe to use a four-wheeler in the current weather conditions? Watch out for black ice and avoid driving in severe conditions.
Are you ready for power failures? Make sure all equipment and generators are charged and that there’s a backup plan in place.
Do you have shelter for livestock to escape the cold? Take care that it has good ventilation and that there is adequate access to food and water.
Communicate with your team the importance of safety first. Develop standard precautions as well as an emergency plan should conditions become severe for staff and seasonal help on the farm. Set an example and follow best winter farm safety practices yourself too. For example:
Huddle up at the start of the day and have a safety discussion on what to do if someone becomes stranded.
Tell someone before you leave your regulator route.
Keep in regular contact with people who are working in poor weather conditions.
It's important to know when to delay operations as conditions like high wind, extremely low temperature, snow, ice, and sleet increase the risk of accidents occurring. As well, most locations have limited daylight hours during winter months, which makes preparing in advance critical.
Monitor the weather throughout the day. This will give you insight into a variety of developing weather conditions before they become severe. By keeping track of conditions, you’ll know in advance what the best course of action will be to take care of people, animals, crops, and equipment.
One of the most significant ways in which cold weather can negatively impact risk on the farm is that it increases the chances of hypothermia and frostbite.
These conditions occur when the body is unable to maintain a normal temperature, leading to a range of symptoms including numbness, tingling, and loss of consciousness. With this in mind, wind chill is an important factor to consider when planning outdoor work.
The National Weather Service has a Wind Chill Chart that can assist you with planning outdoor work. You should also consider the physical demands of the work being performed in cold conditions to ensure there are periods to take a break and warm up out of the elements.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has additional information on cold weather illnesses that will help you plan, equip, and train.
Farmers and their workers should take steps to stay warm, such as wearing warm clothing, taking frequent breaks to warm up, and staying dry. Adding layers of clothing gives options as both temperature and physical labor can impact how warm you feel while working.
You lose a lot of heat through your head in extreme cold. Wear headgear that covers your head and ears and provides protection for your face. A quality jacket with a hood is worth the investment. If possible, wear water-resistant boots. Insulated and heated clothing, gloves, socks, and boots are options to consider and will help protect from hypothermia and frostbite.
Another way in which cold weather can increase risk on the farm is by making it more difficult to operate equipment. Cold temperatures can make equipment hard to start and difficult to operate.
In addition to being slow to start, equipment may not run as long. Cold weather can cause batteries to lose power more quickly, which can make it challenging to keep equipment running while you work. It’s helpful to ensure equipment is fully charged before heading out into the field, and having a portable battery charger can be handy.
It may be tempting to work more quickly when the weather is cold so you can hurry back indoors, but pay close attention to how your equipment is managing weather conditions and practice patience as needed. Farm equipment can become dangerous to operate on ice and snow. Braking can become difficult, roads can be slick, and traction can become sporadic. Further, loads can become unbalanced quickly.
Pre-plan trips with equipment and make sure the weather conditions allow for safe travel and operation.
You may not have a need to use some farm equipment and tools during the winter months. To mitigate risks, farmers should take steps to protect their equipment from the cold, such as storing equipment in a warm, dry place. This will help keep it in good working order.
Winter is an ideal time to perform maintenance. Even if you do not plan to perform any maintenance, periodically check your equipment throughout the season to ensure it is kept safe from moisture, cold, and critters that could damage it.
A farmer's job is never done. When you take the equipment out for the first time in the spring, it’s important to inspect it before use to ensure it has not suffered any cracks or corrosion. For example, if farm machinery contains springs that cracked on a cold night, they may have exploded, which can cause injury.
If you are unable to repair your equipment, FBN® Finance provides agricultural financing solutions for farm equipment loans so that you can purchase new or used equipment. The down payment may be as little as 0%.
When you apply online, a dedicated loan advisor will help you successfully complete the application process. There are no application fees. Apply now.
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