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Create a culture of safety on your farm

Chuck Schwartau, Extension Educator
March 10, 2012

Last winter I presented a safety program at several locations for the Minnesota Custom Agriculture Waste Technicians. These are the custom applicators hauling manure on many of your farms each spring and fall. Since then I have had several calls asking for help to develop safety plans for their businesses. While a common goal is OSHA compliance, the key element to compliance and meeting the goal of a safe workplace for all employees is creating a "culture of safety".

A culture of safety is more than making sure employees do a five minute check of equipment each morning or making sure a slippery floor has some sand or barn lime spread on it. A culture of safety is when safety is always in the back of your mind and at the front of your actions. A culture of safety has you and every employee always watching for little things that may be hazardous to yourself or someone else who comes around the workplace and may not be as familiar with the day-to-day hazards of working on and around a farm.

A culture of safety is not created on your farm by decree and a one-hour training program. It is created by example and regular reinforcement. It means that all the owner/management staff has to take safety as seriously as they want their employees to take it. You are always watching for problems, seeing that hazards are taken care of, and working in a safe manner yourself, just as you expect your employees to do.

Employees take a lot of cues from the employer/manager. If you jump into a skid steer loader and take off across the yard or down the barn alley without fastening your seatbelt, why should employees do anything different? If they see you pushing, prodding, poking and otherwise forcing cattle around the barn in a manner that could cause injury to the stock or to operators because the stock reacts adversely, why should they move those same cattle in any different way? They won't. Your leadership and actions will be the greatest teacher and reinforcer toward creating that culture of safety.

I am borrowing a check sheet from Dairy Australia's program, "The People in Dairy", which does an excellent job of helping you assess health and safety practices on your dairy farm. I would suggest taking a few minutes to conduct the assessment yourself and then consider where you need to improve and determine how you can make your farm a safer and healthier place to work and live.

Farm health and safety overview checklist

Use these questions as a starting point for working out what you need to do to make your farm safer.




Do you have an orientation process for employees, contractors and visitors?



Do you have an occupational health and safety policy and do you have procedures that are followed for all tasks?



Do you have a documented risk management process that includes manual handling, chemicals, equipment, confined spaces, working at height, and electrical?



Do you have a consultation/communication system with employees?



Is there an emergency response plan for the farm?



Do you have a documented process for hazard, accident and incident reporting?



Are there adequate break rooms and restrooms for people in the workplace?



Do workers possess licenses and/or certificates of competency for the equipment they operate and tasks they undertake? (e.g. forklift license, driver’s license, chemical user’s application training, etc.)



Does all equipment used in the workplace comply with regulations? (includes guards, noise, design, maintenance, and use)



Do you have a process for managing work environment hazards including noise, dust, hot and cold conditions, and sun exposure?



Have you addressed child safety in the workplace?



Are chemicals managed correctly – records, storage, personal protective equipment, usage, material safety data sheets, signage?



Have you displayed adequate signage in the workplace? (e.g. visitor directions, traffic movement, specific hazards, use of personal protective equipment, general warnings)



Does personal protective equipment meet legal requirements - quality, comfort, storage, maintenance, usage, and is it conveniently available for use?



Do you have a policy/procedure that enables people working in remote and isolated locations to receive assistance in emergency situations?




If you answered 'no' to any of these questions, there is room on your farm to develop processes and/or documents that will help make your farm safer.

Every farm is different and, even though there are similarities in work practices and risks, every farm needs its own risk control solutions to achieve the best safety outcomes.

Taking time now before you get as busy with spring activities will give you time to correct bad practices and develop new policies where they may be appropriate.

Start today on creating your farm's "Culture of Safety".

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