Safety considerations for working in the cold and driving in winter
Take extra precautions when driving vehicles and farm equipment on snow and ice.
We all know that Canadian weather this time of year can be unpredictable; in a single day we can start with heavy snow, which turns into rain, and the day ends with sunshine. Winter weather, which includes cold temperatures, ice and snow, can lead to some additional hazards when completing your regular tasks at work. Because of this, you must take extra precautions this time of year.
Winter weather conditions bring many added hazards to your workplace. One common injury in winter months is slips and falls since snow, ice and rain can make walking surfaces and stairs slippery. Slip and fall hazards can also be found indoors as floors can be slippery when snow and ice is brought inside. To prevent slippery floors, clean boots and remove as much snow as possible from equipment before bringing it indoors. Watch for slippery areas and clean up water and ice from the floors inside.
Outside, patches of ice, debris and other items may not be visible if they are covered in snow. The outside ground may be icier in the early morning and in the afternoon as the sun goes down and wet areas freeze. Pay attention to ground conditions in parking lots, walkways and the outdoor work area throughout the day. Clear snow and put salt or sand down as needed throughout the day, especially at entrances and pathways. Follow safe lifting techniques when shoveling to avoid injury. Keep your back straight, lift with your legs, and do not turn or twist the body. Start slowly by scooping small amounts of snow at a time. Where possible, push snow instead of lifting it. If using snow removal equipment, such as a snow blower, make sure you follow safety procedures and manufacturer’s safety guidelines.
Working in the cold puts stress on the body and uses excess energy to maintain body heat. You must consider temperature and wind chill when working outside in cold weather, and take precautions to protect yourself while working in the cold. Wear appropriate, warm, slip-resistant, insulated and waterproof footwear. Consider wearing inner and outer layers that will keep you dry. Wear waterproof and insulated gloves, especially when working with water or in wet conditions. Ensure that you cover up all exposed skin including your face, neck, head and ears. Continue to use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and high-visibility clothing over your winter weather clothing. Finally, take frequent breaks in warm areas.
Prepare your vehicle for winter
You may know how to drive for winter conditions, braking in snow, handling a skid and more, but what if your vehicle does not respond? A winter-ready vehicle is just as important as good driving skills.
A winter-ready vehicle allows you to better handle winter conditions. Here’s what to do. If possible, install winter tires. Winter tires provide better traction in cold weather. Check your tire pressure often as it can drop in colder conditions. Before each trip, walk around your vehicle to inspect it and to ensure it is in good overall condition. Review your vehicle’s maintenance record, and take care of maintenance and repairs right away. Ensure the battery, brakes, lights, fuses, cooling/heating systems, exhaust/electrical systems, belts and hoses are in good shape, and get them maintained as needed. Keep your gas tank full to avoid condensation in the tank, which can cause fuel lines to freeze. It is also good practice to not let your fuel tank go below a quarter tank of gas in case of an emergency event where you are stuck or cannot get to a gas station because of inclement weather. Finally, equip your vehicle with a winter survival kit including a high-visibility vest, first aid kit, blankets, scraper/snow brush, shovel and traction mat, sand or kitty litter, antifreeze, flares, matches or lighter, flashlight, battery jumper cables, sandbags for extra weight, and extra clothing and footwear.
Preparing to drive
During winter months, road hazards increase significantly due to rain, snow, ice and fog. The best way to stay safe is to always plan for potential bad weather and winter conditions. Before you leave your house, check the weather forecast, road conditions and traffic reports often. Try to avoid driving when road and weather conditions are bad. Cancel or delay trips when possible if the weather is bad; even an hour or two can make a difference. Wear sturdy shoes or boots that have good traction. Maintain three points of contact when entering or exiting your vehicle, especially when steps and the ground below may be icy. Sweep snow and ice from all parts of your vehicle – windows, mirrors, lights, wheel wells and your hood – and wait until all windows are fully defrosted before pulling away.
Behind the wheel
Avoid roads that become dangerous (with black ice, hard-packed snow, slush, etc.) during bad weather. Leave a lot of time so you’re not rushing. Learn and practice how to brake safely, get out of a skid and how your vehicle handles in winter weather. Dress comfortably and have warm clothing on hand (winter boots, coat, gloves, hat, etc). As previously mentioned, have an emergency plan in case you get stuck or stranded. Always carry a cell phone and make sure it is charged and have a charger on hand. Cell phone batteries can freeze in extremely cold weather, so don’t leave your phone in the vehicle for extended periods of time.
Driving in snow
Snow can make driving on even the simplest road unpredictable and possibly dangerous. You can’t predict how your vehicle, or other vehicles, will react once it snows. A few facts about driving in the snow: Hard-packed snow on a road can be as slippery as ice. Snow can be rutted and full of hard tracks and snow “gullies” that can throw your vehicle off track. Wet snow can make for slushy roads. Heavy slush can build up in wheel wells and affect your ability to steer. Slush and spray from other vehicles can cause sudden loss of visibility.
When you’re behind the wheel, driving is your only job. Maintain focus, do not get distracted and follow the following general rules when driving in snow or other winter conditions. Drop your speed; the posted speed limit is for ideal road conditions. In winter, slow down, no matter how skilled you are at driving. Follow at a safe distance, and leave yourself a lot of space between vehicles; it takes longer to stop on a slippery road. Leave at least four seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you. Stick to well-traveled routes and avoid roads that may become dangerous. Watch for warning signs: If vehicles are spun out in the median or shoulder, the roads are bad. If you start seeing big trucks spun out, it’s time to get off the roadway. While driving, be prepared for sudden slush or spray from other vehicles. A smart way to prepare is to reduce your speed, keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. When you approach an intersection, really slow down. Just a few inches of packed snow can make stopping a challenge. Finally, be careful when approaching maintenance vehicles such as snowplows or salt and sand trucks; they often spray snow, making it tough to see.
Driving on icy roads
When roads are icy, you not only have to watch yourself, but you also have to watch for others sliding into your path. Learn how to drive on ice before you get behind the wheel. Watch for black ice; shaded areas, bridges and overpasses freeze sooner than other areas, even in sunshine. Slow down. Avoid sudden moves. Accelerating, braking, turning – do everything gently and gradually to avoid spinning your tires or your vehicle. Know how to handle a skid. If you begin to skid, ease off the brake or accelerator and steer smoothly in the direction you want to go. Smooth steering is the key to recovering from a skid. Slow down, especially when approaching an intersection. It takes longer to stop on ice. Watch for vehicles sliding through the intersection. When starting up, accelerate slowly to avoid spinning your wheels. Lastly, pick a path that provides the most traction. Watch the cars ahead of you to see where they’re spinning their wheels or sliding so that you can avoid those spots.
Driving farm equipment on the road in the winter
Many of the safety considerations are the same when driving farm equipment on the road, but most of us have a lot more experience driving a vehicle in the winter than a tractor. It’s also important to remember that most farm equipment is not designed specifically for winter conditions and handles significantly different than your car or truck. Before driving equipment on the road, you must take steps to ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road. Follow all of the safety precautions listed in the vehicle sections above, along with the following key items.
Just like when driving your vehicle, check the road conditions and weather updates before you begin driving; avoid driving in poor weather when possible. Always carry a cell phone and charger, as well as equipment such as a scraper/brush, shovel, etc. Ensure that you tell someone where you are going and when you are expected to arrive; establish a check-in schedule if you are working alone. Always clean off boots and ladders/steps when getting in and out of equipment to prevent slips.
Preheat equipment and use the defroster to ensure windows are clear of fog and ice. Do not run equipment indoors. Ensure your windows and mirrors are clear of snow and ice. Clear as much snow and ice from the top of equipment as possible to avoid debris flying off while driving. When possible, store equipment indoors to reduce the accumulation of snow and ice. Use your windshield wipers when it is snowing or raining.
Use equipment lights. Poor lighting in the morning and afternoon, or when it is snowing or raining, can make it hard to see other vehicles, pedestrians or other hazards. When lights are required at night, make sure you only have driving lights on rather than working lights, since working lights tend to blind oncoming traffic. Ensure brake lights and other lights are working so other drivers can see you in low-visibility conditions.
Ensure tires are adequate for driving in winter conditions. Check tire pressure, battery level, fuel level, wiper fluid levels and wipers before you start your drive. Watch for black ice. Give yourself extra time. Slow down and drive appropriately for road conditions. Adjust your driving when roads are wet, slippery or snowy (acceleration, speed, cornering, etc.). Learn and practice how to brake safely, get out of a skid and how your equipment handles in winter weather. If you begin to skid, ease off the brake or accelerator and steer smoothly in the direction you want to go. Smooth steering is the key to recovering from a skid. Keep your distance from other drivers and allow extra distance when stopping and cornering.
Use extra caution when pulling over to the shoulder as snow and ice can build up and make it hard to see ditches and culverts. Also consider using winter accessories such as tire chains.
Driving ATV/UTV and farm equipment on the farm
To start, follow the precautions above when driving on the road. If the vehicle does not have an enclosed cab, it is extra important to ensure you have layered warm clothing and wind protection. Stick to driving in areas you are familiar with but be aware that conditions may be different if covered in ice and snow. You might not be able to see dips in the path as well as you could if that path was cleared, and powdery snow can greatly reduce traction. When driving off road, you must be aware of ground conditions. Watch for ice, snow and mud. When uneven ground freezes, it can cause very bumpy driving conditions. Driving in the mud when it is soft can cause ruts that will freeze. Avoid driving on frozen ponds, rivers or lakes. Finally, have a plan to get unstuck. Use a winch when possible or call for help if you get stuck.
Winter is part of the Canadian experience. Ensure that you have the proper clothing, footwear and attire to provide you warmth and protection from the elements. When operating a vehicle or farm equipment, always ensure that you check the weather and inspect your equipment before you leave and know when it is better to just stay home.