Working in Cold Weather: 4 Safety Tips for Farmers and Ranchers

Dec 22, 2023 2 min read

We understand farming and ranching chores and duties don’t stop just because snow, ice and cooler temps have arrived, but Old Man Winter can bring hazards. Remember to use the buddy system whenever possible and work during the warmest part of the day. Heed these additional safety tips for working in cold conditions.

When is it too cold to work?

The wind chill factor plays a big role in whether you should skip working outside in cold weather. Wind chill temperature measurements are the actual effect cold weather will have on your exposed skin. Even if the air temperature seems reasonable, a harsh wind chill can make conditions too dangerous for prolonged work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an easy-to-read chart, created by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), that tells you in what wind chill conditions outdoor work is not advisable. Be mindful of any health conditions you may have that could make working in extreme conditions riskier. 

Take breaks

Taking indoor breaks is a key component of working in cold weather safely. You can follow the work and warmup schedule listed on the above chart for varying conditions. During those breaks, be sure to check your body for signs of cold stress. (See below.) Sip a warm, sweet beverage to help re-energize the body, and eat a warm, high-calorie snack or meal. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. To keep your house cozy for breaks or post-work rest, check out our tips.

Dress appropriately for the conditions

OSHA recommends wearing at least three layers of clothing to ward off the chill. Start with a base layer against skin. Then add an insulating layer in the middle, and a wind and water-resistant outer layer that has a bit of ventilation. Never wear cotton in cold or wet weather. It absorbs moisture and dries slowly. Synthetic fabrics, wool and silk are all safer options. Choose loose-fitting layers to avoid circulation issues. Wear protection for your face and mouth as well, if needed. A hat and gloves are a must to protect skin and prevent heat from escaping. A good pair of insulated, waterproof boots will do the trick for your feet.

Watch for major issues associated with cold stress

Cold stress happens when the external temperature drives down skin temperature and eventually body temperature. OSHA says the most common cold-induced illness and injuries involve hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. In the event of an emergency, call 911.

  • Hypothermia happens when you lose body heat faster than you can replace it. We often think of hypothermia occurring in extreme cold, but it can also happen on a nice, cool day if you become wet from sweat, rain or other water exposure. Shivering is an early warning sign, but when body temperature continues to fall, shivering will stop. Keep a lookout for loss of coordination and for disorientation in yourself and others. If you experience these symptoms, seek shelter, remove wet clothing, take steps to warm up, and call a medical professional.
  • Frostbite happens when skin or underlying tissue freezes. Watch your extremities for gray or white patches on reddened skin, numbness or a feeling of firmness or hardness. If you suspect you have frostbite, seek shelter, remove wet clothing and get medical attention. Do not try to rewarm frostbitten areas by placing them in, for example, warm water — more damage could occur.
  • Trench foot, also called immersion, happens with continuous exposure to wet and cold conditions. The body essentially will shut down circulation in the feet, and tissue will begin to die. Trench foot can even occur on a nice 60-degree day because, according to OSHA, wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry ones. Redness, swelling, numbness and blisters could all be signs of trench foot. Seek shelter, remove wet socks or boots and carefully dry your feet.

Using these tips, you’re sure to stay safe this winter. But is your farm or ranch protected? Safeguard what matters most with help from your Farm Bureau agent today.

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.