Center Focus Column

Safety Month Reminder to Be Safe

As farmers, all too often we wear our injuries like badges of honor. “This scar is from the time I got caught in the gate,” “This is the bruise where the cow kicked me,” “This is where the Kubota backed into me.” But as any soldier would tell you, badges of honor are often reminders of how close we’ve come to tragedy.  For my son, it’s the scar on his arm that reminds him not to run behind the vertical feed mixer or any equipment when it’s backing up, and for me, it’s the broken collarbone that reminds me not to put myself between an off-balance cow and the gate next to her.

Almost any report on occupational safety will list farming as one of the most hazardous of all jobs. Every day about 100 agricultural workers suffer a lost-work-time injury, according to a report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Unfortunately, too many of those injuries result in tragedy, with the report indicating that the industry has a fatality rate of 19.2 deaths for every 100,000 workers. The report shows that risks are high for farmers, their farm employees and for the children residing and working on the farms. In fact, in 2014 alone, an estimated 12,000 youth were injured on US farms.

September is National Farm Safety Month. It serves an important reminder for every farm to have protocols and a plan to ensure the safety of both your family members and your employees. In 2016, the Center for Dairy Excellence joined with the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania and Penn State Extension Dairy Team to highlight the importance of on-farm safety. As part of that effort, each month we share safety tips from farmers on near misses and learnings they have incorporated into their farm safety plan.

Here are some of what we’ve learned from this initiative.

  1. Develop BMPs and Protocols. Many of the near-misses shared over the past year have been incidents that could have been avoided if the people involved were following proper protocols. Having best management practices related to safety written down and reviewed with all employees can remind everyone to stop and think, saving themselves from a potential injury or accident. Protocols should be written for working with cattle, with equipment, and with chemicals and other potential hazards on the farm.Those protocols should also be posted near areas where farm workers are likely to be performing those tasks so they are kept front of mind. Many organizations offer resources to help you develop those protocols. If you would like help, please contact the center and we can get you in touch with those resources.
  2. Have a Plan. Do your employees know what to do when an emergency occurs? We have all heard tragic stories of when one farm worker approached a situation and made it worse by putting themselves in harm’s way. Write down your plan in case of an accident, a fire or any other type of emergency and share it with your employees and your family members. Make sure they know where fire extinguishers are and what to do to ensure their own safety as well as the person involved in the accident. Again, many resources exist to help you develop that plan.
  3. Create a Culture. When I worked at Land O’Lakes, every morning I walked by a sign that shared how many days the Carlisle plant was accident free. When they hit certain milestones, like 100 days or 500 days, the staff would be invited to celebrations to reward their commitment to safety. This is something that could easily be incorporated into any farm culture. Think of ways to remind your employees and your family members how important safety is – start every meeting with a safety share, post the number of days you are accident free or personally recognize employees you see taking extra steps to be safe. The little things you do will create a culture of safety that will resonate in fewer accidents and a safer team.
  4. Consider an Audit. Third-party groups are available to come in and audit your farm to identify areas that could be unsafe. Often those audits will bring to light potential hazardous situations that you didn’t see on your own. You could also contact your local extension agent and ask if they’d be willing to come out and walk through your farm with you to make sure your protocols prioritize safety of your employees. Your nutritionist or another key advisor may also be able to help you evaluate your operation as well. Having that outside perspective involved in developing your safety plan can ensure you’re doing everything possible to be safe.

National Farm Safety Month is an ideal time to remind yourself how important it is to be safe, especially as you are working through a very busy fall harvest season. Don’t wait until an accident happens to serve as that reminder. If you would like additional resources to encourage farm safety on the farm, please contact the Center for Dairy Excellence at 717-346-0849 or at info@centerfordairyexcellence.org and we can share some of those resources with you.

Editor’s Note: This is a monthly column written by Jayne Sebright, the executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence, and published for Lancaster Farming’s Dairy Reporter.