Posted by: Patricia Hysong | January 20, 2012

Preventing Cold-Related Illnesses in Agriculture Workers


It seems as though there are very few perfect days weather-wise in Wyoming to be involved in the state’s agricultural business. Sometimes it seems the state should adopt the motto: “If you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes and it will change.” Our weather spectrum can run the gamut from 53º F to -15º F with wind chill in less than 24 hours as it did in Laramie last week. It is so vital that no matter what you are doing or it seems, what time of year it is, you  must be prepared for anything. This is especially important for those working out in the elements because the weather can change so quickly.

Working outdoors in the winter months adds an additional occupational hazard for those whose jobs require them to be outside. Ranchers, farmers and other agricultural workers are included in this group. Being able to work outside in the winter months is necessary because so much needs to be done. From an economic standpoint, family farms and ranches depend on crops and livestock and the weather can’t shut them down. Being prepared and taking appropriate precautions during the winter months can help prevent illness and potentially hazardous situations while taking care of our daily duties.

Common cold weather related health concerns include frostbite, trench foot and hypothermia among other problems. High winds, low temperatures, getting wet and icy surroundings can increase the chances of being susceptible to such conditions.

Using good sense and being prepared for such environmental circumstances can reduce the risks involved with working outside in the cold weather. Always dress appropriately and layer clothing, take extra clothing with you, either to change into if you get wet or to add another layer if need be. Make sure hands, feet, head and face are protected and wear appropriate fitting and insulated footwear to keep out the cold and dampness. Dirty and greasy cloths do not insulate well so avoid wearing them in the colder months while working outside.

Some suggestions for other safe outdoor work practices include working at a comfortable pace. Rushing can cause accidents or frustration which in turn can impair good judgment. Limit activities that cause heavy perspiration, work outside during the warmest part of the day and whenever possible move outdoor work that needs to be done inside. Good circulation is important so limit activities such as sitting or standing still for too long in one spot that could reduce circulation and be sure to drink and eat plenty to keep energy and hydration levels up. Whenever possible work with someone else. If something bad happens, having a co-worker near-by could make a huge difference in the outcome of the situation. Always seek warm shelter immediately if you begin experiencing any of the following symptoms: heavy shivering, an uncomfortable sensation of coldness, severe fatigue, drowsiness, or euphoria. These are signs that you could be in danger and if you don’t change the situation you are in quickly, confusion and disorientation may soon follow. Take these symptoms seriously, avoid additional risks and get help immediately.

Being aware of weather conditions and being prepared can make outdoor work more enjoyable and less dangerous. Please take a few minutes and read the fact sheet on the website listed below for more information on this important topic.

 This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.

This information is adapted from Preventing Cold-Related Illnesses in Agriculture Workers. Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 1993.


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