DARKE COUNTY - Winter might be a slower time on the farm, since the harvest is in and it’s a waiting game for next year’s planting season, but farm safety is still important, noted Sam Custer, ag educator for The Ohio State University Extension office in Darke County.
“Although farm fatalities as a result of accident on the farm decline during the winter months, the possibility for serious injuries may rise on livestock farms,” Custer stated.
Jeff and Alan Wuebker, Wuebker Farms, LLC, suggest trying to stay inside as much as possible in the cold winter months, but they know it’s not possible to avoid going out, so they make sure to keep their farm clear of snow and ice, as a precaution for themselves and their employees. They also shared that they’re sure to bundle up, including layering and good gloves and hats, and Alan said he doesn’t go out without his sunglasses, to avoid being sun-blinded.
The Wuebkers also suggest checking propane to make sure the heat is working properly, and keeping plenty of diesel fuel on-hand to operate equipment and generators.
Many farmers, including livestock farmers, rely on a back-up generator in the winter months after heavy or wet snowfall, in case of power outages, OSU reports. This is a good tool to have in an emergency, but can be dangerous if not used correctly, Custer noted.
“Portable generators can be a real life saver when there are extended power outages or they can cause a death. You cannot place your generator in an enclosed area or near an open window. The carbon monoxide gases can kill you very quickly,” said Custer.
To avoid running extension cords to appliances, homeowners might choose to connect a portable generator to a breaker box, OSU reported; to avoid “back feeding,” or producing energized power lines, a double pole, double throw switch should be installed between the generator and the breaker box.
Make sure the Ground - Fault Circuit Interrupter is properly functioning to avoid electrical shock. Also make sure to run the generator outdoors, in a well-ventilated area, as they produce carbon monoxide along with the electric. Do not operate the generator near open windows or doors, install carbon monoxide detectors, and remember that the symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure are similar to the flu.
Losing power isn’t the only danger in the winter; cold weather means more slick surfaces, and a great risk of falls, Matt Aultman, a local farmer, reported. It also means that farmers are wearing bulkier clothing to protect themselves from the cold, said Sam Custer.
“Those on the farm must be very cautious of moving equipment when wearing heavy winter wear,” said Custer. “A new pair of coveralls being caught on a power take off (PTO) shaft on a grinder may lead to a certain fatality. Take the extra seconds to walk around the tractor versus climbing over the PTO.”
Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility program coordinator, suggested proper housekeeping and maintenance to prevent most falls. Also remember to utilize handrails or grab bars; maintain three points of contact when mounting farm equipment (one hand, two feet/two feet, one hand); take smaller steps in wet and icy conditions to maintain balance; and use slip-resistant mats or textured surfaces to provide better traction in potentially wet areas.
“Keeping stuff clean, and being ready are both key to staying safe on the farm in the winter. Stairs to feed bins can get slick, so you have to be very careful,” Jeff Wuebker explained. “The important thing to remember is to just take your time, slow down, and get it done safely.”
The Wuebkers keep salt-gravel to help catch traction on ice, and fire extinguishers, which are checked yearly, in case of an emergency; they use equipment such as tractor loaders and snow blowers to help keep their farm’s pathways clear of snow, and if need be, they can help their employees get to work by digging them out at home, Jeff noted.
“On bad days, we can spend up to six hours just clearing the farm,” Alan commented. “So we always keep some equipment inside to make sure it’s ready to go when we need it.”
Other concerns this winter include grain bin safety, and emergency preparedness, said Custer.
“As a result of very good corn yields this past fall, there is a greater number of bushels of corn being stored in the county. With increased storage comes increased risks with handling the grain,” Custer noted. “Producers must be aware of crusting grain in their bins and always work in pairs and with safety ropes when entering a bin.”
Farmers should also communicate with emergency services in the area; McGuire suggested having the local fire department become familiar with the farm and its operations on a scheduled visit. McGuire also suggests that farmers put together an emergency response plan that covers such information as where livestock will be evacuated; shut-offs for water, gas and electric; locations of chemicals, paints, and other flammables; and specialty equipment that might be needed to access remote locations on the farm.
As for animal care in the winter, the Wuebkers make sure to keep their barns closed and warm for their livestock, they said. Matt Aultman suggested keeping plenty of clean water for livestock and other animals, as they can dehydrate fairly quickly once the water freezes over, he said.
For more information about farm safety, visit the Darke County OSU Extension web site at www.darke.osu.edu, the OSU Extension Darke County Facebook page or contact Sam Custer, at 937-548-5215.