With heavy snowfall blanketing several regions of New York State today following Thursday’s storm, the State Department of Agriculture and Markets is reminding farmers about the importance of monitoring the weight load on structures, especially barns and other agricultural buildings, on their farms. Some areas of the State saw record snowfall, accumulating to totals of well over 40 inches, presenting potentially dangerous conditions on farms due to stress from the snow load.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “With record-setting snow falling in many areas of our State, we want to caution our farmers to be aware of the weight load on their barns and other agricultural buildings. As cleanup continues today, I encourage everyone to take a look at several great resources from our partners at Cornell to help ensure that snow is removed safely from buildings. Farmers should review this information and take all the necessary precautions to ensure the integrity of on-farm structures and the safety of their families, workers, and animals.”
“Removal of significant snow accumulations off of a barn roof is best performed in a systematic way to reduce the risk of injury or death to both barn occupants and those working on the roof. Removing roof snow without a proper approach may actually cause more damage than if left alone in some cases by creating an unbalanced and/or concentrated roof loads,” according to Curt Gooch, Dairy Environmental Systems and Sustainability Engineer, in a PRO-DAIRY resource about snow removal from barns. PRO-DAIRY offers “Do’s and Don’ts for Snow Removal,” “Heavy Snow Loads,” and other resources on the PRO-DAIRY website home page. Additional resources are on the PRO-DAIRY Environmental Systems Safety page.
Additionally, resources for keeping animals safe during emergencies can be found here.
The Department is also reminding the agricultural industry about the importance of fire safety to prevent fires at home and on farms this winter season. The number of structural fires can increase during colder months, as items like space heaters and candles are used more frequently. According to Cornell’s Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN), a house fire can become life threatening within two minutes, and a home can be fully engulfed in flame within five minutes. When a fire takes place on a farm, many other precious resources are in danger of being lost as well – like animals, hay, grain, equipment, buildings, and more.
New York State Fire Administrator Francis Nerney said, “The winter and holiday seasons mean heating and decorating and extra cooking, all of which have the potential to increase fire risk. During these times it is all the more important to make fire prevention a priority.”
Below are prevention and preparedness measures to reduce the risk of fire on the farm:
Create a safety plan, including evacuation routes and meeting places for people and animals. Go over the plan with your staff.
Invite the local fire department to tour the farm each year and review your safety plan with them. They may spot some areas to improve the plan.
It is important to have several fire extinguishers located around your farm and to check regularly that they’re in working order. Remember, fire extinguishers are only helpful if used properly, so make sure staff members are trained to use them. It’s vital to put fire extinguishing power in the hands of emergency-trained employees.
Install a fire alarm system. Quickly alerting everyone to danger is critical for a safe evacuation. Monitored systems also alert the fire department to automatically dispatch help to your location. There are also special requirements for flammable liquids storage. Check with your local codes authorities to see what is appropriate.
Regularly check any equipment you would use during an animal evacuation to make sure it is readily available and working, and that staff know how to use it.
Have animals appropriately and uniquely identified. RFID tags and an inexpensive RFID reader allow for easy and stress-free tracking of animals during emergency movement.
Keep bolt cutters within easy reach in tie stall barns to allow for quick evacuation of animals.
Make sure any hazards on your farm are clearly posted (chemicals, physical hazards) so that assisting emergency personnel are not put in harm’s way.
As a rule, prohibit smoking in or around the barn, park tractors and vehicles away from the barn, and store machinery and flammable materials somewhere else.
Store your hay properly. Damp, incompletely cured (dried) hay can generate heat through a bacterial reaction during the curing process, and can get to the point of spontaneous combustion. Measure the heat of your baled hay by inserting a temperature probe. Learn more about hay storage and temperature.
Inspect electrical equipment and wiring regularly and correct any problems.
Always plug major appliances directly into a wall outlet; never use an extension cord. Unplug small appliances when you are not using them.
Replace worn, old or damaged extension cords right away. Use extension cords for temporary purposes only. Avoid putting cords where they can be damaged or pinched, like under a carpet or rug. Do not overload power strips and use power strips that have internal overload protection.
Keep lamps, light fixtures and light bulbs away from anything that can burn. Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or fixture.
Do not overload wall outlets. Insert plugs fully into sockets. Never force a three-prong cord into a two-slot outlet.
It’s also important to review and inventory stored chemicals. Write out an inventory sheet and keep a copy handy in an easily accessible location. This inventory helps facilitate an accurate appraisal of the danger level in your chemical storage area and can also help emergency responders put out chemical fires more effectively. During the inventory process, make sure all your chemicals are stored in properly labeled approved storage containers on stable, wall-secured shelving. The storage area should be out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat. Segregate chemicals that could interact, such as acids and bases or organic materials and oxidizing mineral acids.
Flammable and combustible materials are least likely to cause health problems or fires if they’re stored in a cool, well-ventilated space. The ventilation your storage area requires depends on the amount and type of chemicals stored there.
More information about fire prevention and preparedness is available at https://eden.cce.cornell.edu/other-hazards/fire/.
Additionally, visit https://agriculture.ny.gov/fire-prevention-checklist for a printable farm safety checklist.