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November 16, 2021

Winter is coming – safety in agribusiness

Steve Zink

Although we do not like to be reminded, winter is right around the corner.   For lots of folks that means the possibility of snow, rain, sunshine, wind and just plain old cold temperatures.  Occasionally, all of the above in a single day.  Having said that, those of us who work in the agriculture arena, know that no matter what the weather is, we still have to go out and get things done.  Livestock needs to be moved, equipment needs to be checked, fences need to be fixed, etc.

Government statistics state that reported injuries from “environmental cold” in 2018 were 142% above the previous year.  Not that the weather was worse, just that we did not take the opportunity to dress appropriately.   

We have all said to ourselves, “This will only take 10 minutes, so, I’ll just run out and ……..”, without considering a coat, gloves, hat, etc.  Then 60 minutes later, we get the job done and come back inside shivering, blue and looking for some warm coffee.  Our bodies have the ability to tackle these stresses, but if you have any other health issues your body has to work two or three times as hard.

Wind chill is something we should all understand.  Wind can blow away your body’s protective layer of heat.  Dressing in layers has always been the tried and true custom for working outdoors in the cold months.   The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has recommended for years, that layering clothes makes for better insulation.  You can always take layers off if you get too hot or if the layer gets wet.

Body heat tends to escape quickest from our heads and other extremities.  It is as important to keep them covered with hats and gloves.  Boots should be waterproof and insulated to keep our feet warm and dry.

Most of us have heard the phrase “hypothermia”.  What does that really mean?  Hypothermia can be one of the greatest dangers for people who work in outside in cold environments.  The normal temperature of a human being is 98.6 degrees, hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees.

Some of the symptoms of hypothermia can be uncontrolled shivering, fatigue, confusion, loss of coordination and/or slurred speech.  Medical professionals recommend that if you witness or have any of the symptoms discussed, and assistance is over 30 minutes away, that you drink a warm slightly sweetened drink (no alcohol) and put on dry clothing to warm the core of the body.

Another concern is frostbite.  Frostbite is frozen exposed skin and surrounding tissue (fingers, cheeks, toes, ears, etc.).  Medical professionals recommend that you should never let people walk if they have frostbite symptoms nor should you rub the affected area, because it may cause further damage.

As with all safety concerns, we must practice PACE when considering working in cold weather.  Pause for a minute to consider the most effective way to complete the task, assess the current and future weather conditions, consult with the weather channel or computer app and then engage in the work to be completed.

To learn more about how our safety teams can help your company create a safer work environment, contact your Marsh & McLennan Agency representative.

“Stay safe and PACE yourself”