Safety First When Working Outdoors in the Winter

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Whether you are working on the farm or you are a residential property owner with a few acres to manage, safety should be a focus 24/7/365. Even a small slip can easily become dangerous, especially when working with power tools, heavy equipment or large animals. The winter months present their own unique challenges as conditions are often muddy, work areas are cold, and there is the potential for snow and ice.

Here are a few things to consider to help keep you and your family safe when working outside this winter.

  1. Dress in layers. Staying dry is critical during cold temperatures, be sure to have both insulating and waterproofing layers. Hand warmers can be useful, and are a good idea to keep in your vehicle or in coat pockets.
  2. Plan your day and start on time. Accidents are more likely to happen in the dark. With shorter winter days, it is even more important to use time efficiently. Plan your work and pace yourself so that as much as possible can be completed during daylight hours.
  3. Bring safety gear. Winter weather and muddy conditions increase the risk of slips and falls. Make sure first aid kits are accessible and well stocked. Try to avoid working alone, but if you must, be sure to keep a cell phone with you so that you can call for help if needed. In many rural areas, cell phone service is limited, so a 2-way radio with access to someone at the house or shop can be a great lifeline in an emergency.
  4. Watch your step. It’s always a good idea to have some ice melt and sand readily available to help gain extra traction in case of icy conditions. Buy now instead of waiting until after winter weather has happened.
  5. Clear snow and ice from vehicles and equipment completely. Ice left on the hood of a vehicle can break loose and impair visibility. Take the time to completely remove snow and ice before beginning a job.
  6. Use caution around heating sources. Shops and sheds are often cold and drafty, so a supplemental gas or electric heater is frequently used. Always read and follow manufacturer guidelines when using a heater, and be sure the area around the heater is clear of anything that could lead to a fire, such as grease, rags, or fuel.
  7. Let someone know what your plans are. Leave a note or tell a loved one when leaving the house. Let them know where you will be and when you expect to return. In the event of an accident, they will know something is not right when you don’t show up on time.
  8. Stay hydrated. During hot weather, it is much easier to remember to drink plenty of fluids. However, work during the winter still leads to sweat, so remember to replace fluids. A thermos with a hot beverage can be a great way to warm up during a break. Fuel your body with healthy and hearty meals and snacks to keep you warm during cold winter days.
  9. Invest in good work wear. Quality waterproof jackets, boots, and pants can be a steep investment, but will pay for themselves in the comfort and safety they provide.
  10. Be prepared to finish at another time. Often chores take longer than we expect. If dangerous weather conditions occur, stop and take breaks to keep yourself safe. No task is worth an accident or injury. Prioritize work to finish the most important jobs first.

Each situation is unique, so think of things on your property that may be a safety hazard and make a checklist to help you and family members stay safe this year. Sometimes an extra set of eyes can notice risks you never thought of, so ask your local Extension Agent for help identifying possible safety risks. I hope these tips will help keep you safe either on the farm, at work, or even around your residential property this winter. This article was modified from an original version produced by Zack Taylor, former Field Crops and Livestock Agent in Lee County.

Bill Stone is the County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.