How To Keep Employees Safe During This Polar Vortex

Keeping animals warm is one challenge, keeping employees safe is another.  ( Farm Journal )

This week most of the Midwest is experiencing a historic polar vortex. In fact, meteorologists predict some areas of the upper Midwest will actually be colder than Antarctica. Keeping animals warm is one challenge, keeping employees safe is another. 

"Farm employees, by the nature of their work, most often spend at least some portion of their workday outdoors or in unheated buildings. Especially if this is your employee's first exposure to extreme cold, it is important that employers ensure they have access to proper winter clothing to stay safe and a clear understanding of the dangers brought on by extreme cold," says Maristela Rovai, assistant professor & South Dakota State University Extension dairy specialist.

Here are some steps farmers can take to help their employees get through this storm safely. 

  1. Encourage employees to wear appropriate clothing. This includes layering up and ensuring as little skin is exposed to the elements as possible. This tip sheet by South Dakota State extension explains appropriate winter clothing in English and Spanish. 
  2. Offer frequent breaks to help employees warm up. While your barn staff will spend most of the day inside, employees that work on the outside crew will need frequent short breaks to come inside and let their body temperatures warm up, according to 
  3. Consider offering warm beverages and snacks. Hot drinks like coffee and tea can go a long way in keeping employees warm while they work outside. Also, just like a calf, the human body burns more calories trying to stay warm than it does during mild weather. Offer employees calorie rich snacks.
  4. Implement a buddy system for outside work. Employers should consider asking employees to work outside in pairs, so they can keep an eye out for symptoms of hypothermia and frost bite.

"Knowledge and prevention are key to being safe during extreme winter conditions," Rovai explains.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

Early Stage

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and disorientation 

Hypothermia is a medical emergency.  If not treated in the early stage, the condition will become life-threatening.

Late Stage

  • No shivering
  • Blue skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Request immediate medical assistance.