As the region continues to experience one of the coldest, snowiest winters in recent years, growers and producers can take measures to ensure their safety in increasingly hazardous outdoor conditions, says a safety specialist with the Ohio AgrAbility Program at Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
While snowy, icy conditions can be a hazard for anyone, growers and producers in many instances have a greater risk for injuries from slips and falls because they work in areas that have a variety of walking and working surfaces, including sloped and uneven terrain, said Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility coordinator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.
Farmers have an increased risk of injury from falling because of the variety of surfaces and changes in elevation they encounter on a regular basis, he said. Livestock barns, haylofts, feedlots, wash down areas, farm equipment steps, ladders and work platforms can all pose a potential fall hazard.
"Typically farmers aren't working in controlled environments and throughout the course of the day will often work on several different work surfaces and different terrain types," McGuire said. "You add an element of cold weather, ice and snow, and that increases the potential for injury from slips, trips and falls.
"If we get any significant amount of snowfall, it can reduce your perception of changes in elevation. You don't see that small change in elevation because it is hidden under the snow. It looks like a smooth surface because the snow that is giving you that perception."
Nearly all slips or falls are caused by substandard walking surfaces, surface contaminants such as oil or grease, wearing the wrong footwear or a person's walking style.
To help prevent work-related injuries on farms, proper housekeeping and lighting of travel paths and working surfaces is key.
Choosing the proper footwear for weather or work conditions can lessen the potential for injury and even reduce fatigue, which is also an important factor, McGuire said.
"Vision can also be an issue of concern with falls," he said. "Extreme changes in light can intensify in the winter, which can impact your vision. This is especially true when you walk into dimly lit barns or buildings from the brightness of the snow-covered outdoors.
"In this case, the new environment will appear very dark or black, so you need to stop walking and take a few seconds for your eyes to adjust before moving on."