This winter has already offered plenty of challenging conditions for Ohio’s farms with wild temperature swings, plenty of snow and dangerously cold wind chill temperatures — and it’s not over yet.
Long hours working in winter weather can set the stage for problems to develop, said
Lisa Pfeifer, Ohio State University ag safety and health education coordinator.
“Daily work on the farm goes on regardless of what weather blows in. Farmers do not get the luxury of hibernating in a warm office or calling in sick when the weather outside takes a drastic turn for the worse. There are still numerous responsibilities to tend to out in the elements: animals to feed, water supplies to check, hatches to button down, fences to maintain, shelters to clean, lanes to clear, medications to administer. It really is an endless list,” Pfeifer said. “Along with the cold outside, comes the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia. If you can’t avoid the cold because work still has to be done, knowing who is at high risk for frostbite and hypothermia, the most vulnerable body parts, and how to dress to protect yourself can help to keep you safe. Keep in mind that preventive measures are the first line of defense. Prepare your home and vehicle with winter weather emergencies in mind.
“Wearing a scarf or mask that covers the face and mouth, a hat, a water-resistant coat, mittens or gloves, multiple layers of clothing, and water-resistant boots will offer you protection. The ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes are the areas of the body most often affected, so make sure you cover those areas.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with the highest risks in cold winter weather are:
- Older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating
- Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
- The homeless, hikers, hunters, or those that remain outdoors for long periods
- Those who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.
At the first signs of frostbite or hypothermia, move the person to warm shelter and take their temperature. If a person’s temperature is below 95 degrees get medical attention immediately. Remove any wet clothing and wrap the person in warm blankets, Pfeifer said. The CDC has a list of signs and symptoms that may indicate frostbite including:
- Redness or pain in any skin area
- A white or grayish-yellow skin area
- Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
Signs and symptoms of hypothermia from the CDC are:
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
- Infants may present with bright red, cold skin and/or very low energy.
It does not take long to go from slight symptoms to a full-blown emergency situation in very cold temperatures, said Kent McGuire, safety and health coordinator for Ohio State University in the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering.
“Things can turn pretty quickly, even at temperatures above freezing hypothermia can set in. And with temperatures below freezing, frostbite can set in. It is very important to understand the signs and symptoms of that and if you start to see them take some shelter and warm up. That can happen quickly and that’s is why it is important to know the signs,” McGuire said. “Many times there is the attitude of trying to work through it and tough it out. That is where a real emergency can happen.”
As winter farm work drags on and challenging winter conditions persist, it can be easy to dismiss some of the common sense things that can be done to minimize risks of other types of common winter injuries. McGuire suggests the following simple tips to minimize risks of overexertion, muscle strain, slips trips and falls, or heart attack that are more common in challenging winter conditions.
• Layered clothing is a necessity, but can be restrictive to range of motion in your body movements.
• Keep track of weather forecasts. Watch the local weather and check the National Weather Service. Know when temperatures and conditions could make outside work dangerous.
• Plan ahead and wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions, even a simple task may take longer to complete than planned. Dress warm enough to withstand the lowest forecasted temperature or wind chill temperature. 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 frozen.
• 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.
• Be observant to hazards at the perimeter of buildings such as falling ice cycles and sliding snow on metal roofs during thawing conditions.
• 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.
• Use three points of contact when mounting or dismounting equipment (one hand and two feet or two hands and one 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.
In addition, there is also a greater risk of fires during the winter months, particularly with the use of heat lamps and heated water sources.
“When you use heat lamps they are often placed too close to bedding or hay or other combustible materials. Follow the manufacturers directions and keep those lamps a proper distance away from any ignition sources,” McGuire said. “Consider the condition of electrical wiring out in the barn and the load we are putting on that wiring using additional heat sources. We need to make sure the wires are capable of handling that electrical load. If we are using extension cords we want to make sure they are approved from the manufacturer.”