It’s no secret that a farm isn’t the safest working environment. But a few simple steps can help make your farm safer for everyone working or living on or around it.
“Contrary to the popular image of fresh air and peaceful surroundings, a farm is not a hazard-free work setting. Every year, thousands of farm workers are injured and hundreds more die in farming accidents,” according to a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The National Safety Council lists agriculture as “the most hazardous industry in the nation.
Here are 7 steps to help keep your farm safe this busy fall harvest season:
- Know your risks. “Awareness” is the key to safety on the farm. Know where risk is highest, like around machinery, grain storage and electrical utilities. Keep a record of the “hot spots” for potentially harmful accidents. Consider farm worker age, specific equipment and protective equipment, and available medical care (emergency and non-emergency) when creating your farm safety plan.
- Create a response plan. Though a serious farm accident is not something you want to think about, you should have a plan in place if the unthinkable happens, and share that plan with everyone on your farm. “[Increase] your awareness of farming hazards and making a conscious effort to prepare for emergency situations including fires, vehicle accidents, electrical shocks from equipment and wires, and chemical exposures,” suggests an OSHA report. “Be especially alert to hazards that may affect children and the elderly.”
- Keep a constant eye out for hazards. A quick inspection of potential dangers and hazards on the farm can pay off in spades in keeping your farm safe. Take a quick walk around your grain bins, for example, and make sure all shields, guards and safety equipment are in place before you start working.
- Read all manuals, instructions and safety information. Though it may be easy to toss an owner’s manual for a piece of equipment into a pile in your farm shop or office, resist that urge and spend time reading up on any equipment or material that could pose a human health risk. This includes owner’s manuals for machinery and material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for chemicals.
- Keep worker, machine and surroundings properly protected. “Proper machine guarding and doing equipment maintenance according to manufacturers’ recommendations can help prevent accidents. Using protective equipment, such as seat belts on tractors, and personal protective equipment (such as safety gloves, coveralls, boots, hats, aprons, goggles, face shields) could significantly reduce farming injuries,” according to OSHA.
“Minimize hazards by carefully selecting the products you buy to ensure that you provide good tools and equipment. Always use seat belts when operating tractors, and establish and maintain good housekeeping practices. Take precautions to prevent entrapment and suffocation caused by unstable surfaces of grain storage bins, silos, or hoppers. Never ‘walk the grain.’”
- Inspect all safety shields and protective structures on the farm. Are your older or smaller tractors outfitted with Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS)? If not, hold off on operating those machines until you can find one from your local dealer. Also, make sure all power take-off (PTO) shafts are covered with approved safety shields.
- Stay lit up and visible. During a busy time for fieldwork, like during the fall or spring, roadway safety should take a high priority. That includes making sure all tractors, combines and other machinery is adequately labeled with Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) signs. Also, make sure all your machines’ lights are fully functioning so you are extra visible during road machinery transport at dark and during early morning and dusk hours.
In general, the best way to keep safe on your farm – in addition to these specific things to watch and take care of – is to stay aware of all potential dangers and be ready to act quickly if a hazardous situation arises.
“Start by increasing your awareness of farming hazards and making a conscious effort to prepare for emergency situations including fires, vehicle accidents, electrical shocks from equipment and wires, and chemical exposures. Be especially alert to hazards that may affect children and the elderly. Minimize hazards by carefully selecting the products you buy to ensure that you provide good tools and equipment. Always use seat belts when operating tractors, and establish and maintain good housekeeping practices,” according to an OSHA report. “Better safety and health practices reduce worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses as well as associated costs such as workers’ compensation insurance premiums, lost production, and medical expenses. A safer and more healthful workplace improves morale and productivity.”