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SAFER on the farm

Chuck Schwartau

Published in Dairy Star March 19, 2010

I’ve heard it said, “There can’t be spring without mud.” Well, we’ve had mud so it must be spring. Mud isn’t the only sign of spring on the farm, though. Activity picks up all around as farmers prepare for the annual rituals of hauling manure, applying fertilizer, tilling the soil and, of course, putting the crop in the ground. Regardless of whether it is an “early spring” or a “late spring”, there is always a certain sense of urgency to get the job done as quickly as possible. That urgency is often the source of accidents on the farm.

One obligation of an employer to his/her employees is to provide a safe workplace. Do you know how safe your farm is for the people so important to its success? Now is a good time to be sure your farm is as safe as you can make it.

I recently came across the following acronym, which should help make your farm a safer place to live and work:



First, one needs to see the hazards around the farm. Take time for you and your employees to do a walk-around looking for and identifying hazards. Next, you need to assess the risk associated with the hazard. There are some hazards that present a more immediate danger than others. That means discussing the hazards and prioritizing them for attention. Identification is of little value if you don’t also fix the problem. A priority list will make the total task seem less imposing and will get the worst problems out of the way first. After fixing a problem, evaluate whether it went far enough to eliminate the hazard (or at least make it much less risky). Is the hazard still quite significant? Maybe you need to look at a different approach to the task, not just the physical item with which you are dealing. Finally, record what you did. This might seem unnecessary, but having records of how a farm deals with safety hazards can be an important item if anyone ever suffers an injury accident on your farm and your insurer or OSHA decides to audit your operation. Records of regular safety activity (don’t forget about training!) on the farm may save you a lot of money and headache.

Wondering where to start?

I suggest two seasonal and very important spots to start your inspection.

  1. Take a look at the lights and reflectors on your tractors and other implements that will be on the road this spring. Minnesota law has specifications for marking what they call “implements of husbandry”. Implements necessary for a farm operation have a right to be on the road, but the operator also has an obligation to operate them in a manner that minimizes the hazard to motorists on the road. The following diagram with explanation by listed number briefly shows the light and reflector placements required.

    tractor lights and reflectors
    • Amber or red light visible from rear, marking extreme left projection.
    • White or amber light visible to front, marking extreme left projection.
    • Flashing amber hazard lights visible from front and rear.
    • SMV emblem visible 600 ft from rear mounted on rear of tractor.
    • White headlight(s) visible from front.
    • Red taillight(s) visible from rear.
    • Two red reflectors visible from rear.

    (Diagram adapted and modified from: Implements of Husbandry: Safety on Minnesota Roads)

    Much more detail and specific rules on implements of husbandry on Minnesota highways can also be found at this same site. It is a good place to start your spring safety training and preparation.

  2. The second place for many livestock farms to pay attention is the manure pit. Nearly every year we hear of someone losing their life to gases in manure pits. While manure pits have a significant odor when being agitated and pumped, there are also less noticeable gases that create significant safety hazards for livestock in the buildings and people working around them. A main safety point should be that no one enters a manure pit for any reason. Wait for properly trained and equipped personnel if anything requires one to go into a pit.
  3. A relatively new hazard is explosion of gases in hog barns when methane levels build up and an ignition source sparks the explosion. The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety has more on manure pit safety.

These two examples are just a start on a good safety program for your farm, but the important thing is that they are a start. Safety should be a part of everyday life on the farm, but it needs to have a start.

If you would like more tips and information on safety around the farm, the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS), is an excellent resource for farm safety tips and training on many subjects.

Here is to your SAFER work on the farm, and a safe 2010.

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