The week of September 21st was National Farm Safety and Health Week. This week of awareness is strategically placed during harvest season – typically the most hazardous time of year for one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. While there is no denying farmers need to be extra cautious during times of increased equipment use, decreased sleep, and high stress, safety on the farm should be recognized every day of the year. An accident can have a physical and emotional toll on your farm, in addition to the financial toll. Farm safety can keep you, your family, your employees – and your cows – out of harm's way.
Create a culture of safety
Show your employees and family members that safety is important to you. By conducting routine safety checks, regular maintenance, and habitual cleaning, safety can become part of the daily routine. Keep the work environment safe for even the littlest of helpers by keeping farm chemicals stored and locked away from children (and animals) and establishing boundaries around gas and diesel tanks and other flammable substances. Encourage others to help with these tasks – make safety everyone's job.
Training – and follow-up – is essential
Whether your farm consists of just immediate family members or has a dozen employees, proper training remains a crucial part of keeping your farm safe. When a task requires equipment, be sure to read the safety manual and have everyone who uses that equipment review it as well. It may be necessary to observe the first few times to ensure whoever is using the equipment is doing so properly. If you see a bad habit forming, nip it in the bud. "Spot training" – quick lessons on safety offered right at the time and place of a task – can help reduce a potential risk. Regular meetings with the entire team are a good way to check in and ensure everyone is contributing to a safe farm.
Think about livestock safety
Thoughts of farm safety usually revolve around equipment, but don't forget about the cows. Keeping them safe will help keep you safe as well. An animal that is in threatening conditions or circumstances will behave aggressively, and could injure a person. A huge part of livestock safety is herdsmanship – the knowledgeable and skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, effective, and low-stress manner. Move cows quietly and calmly. A spooked or stressed cow is more likely to run, charge, or kick. Because of this, make sure that all livestock areas have easy-to-access exits for people to use in case of a dangerous situation.
An area of livestock safety that is almost always overlooked is the risk of zoonotic disease. These are illnesses that can be transmitted between animals and humans, including leptospirosis, rabies, brucellosis, salmonellosis, and ringworm. Humans can contract these by being bitten by or handling an infected animal. Handle infected animals as little as possible to reduce risk of exposure, and when it is necessary use basic hygiene and sanitation immediately afterwards.
Big equipment, big danger
Tractors and large field equipment are the most common causes of farm accidents. First and foremost – and as stated above – read the safety manual. Also, pay attention to any safety or warning decals on the equipment. Before operation, be sure to inspect the equipment for any safety hazards. This helps with the aforementioned "safety culture." During inspection, also identify all safety hazards including moving parts, pinch points, crush points, pull-in areas, and free-wheeling areas. Before approaching equipment, shut it down, turn off the engine, remove the key, and wait for all moving parts to stop. Most importantly, keep bystanders – especially children – away from the equipment operation area.
In addition, be mindful when using public roadways. Use lights and flashers to ensure drivers can see you and have a slow-moving emblem on your tractor/equipment (it is Minnesota law for all vehicles travelling under 30 miles per hour). You may also consider using a following vehicle when moving large pieces of equipment, especially at night.
Take care of YOU
You are the first step in having a safe farm, and taking care of yourself will ensure you are able to maintain it. There some days on the farm that never seem to end, and it's easy to say, "just one more thing," but don't exhaust yourself. Be sure you get enough sleep and rest. If you are in the tractor or combine all day, take some short breaks to refresh yourself. Make sure you are eating enough, and eating well. Eat a breakfast in the morning and take a break for lunch. Avoid too many sugary snacks or beverages as they can lead to a sugar crash.
Farming can be stressful and days can be busy, but slow down and don't rush. Don't skip a pre-field equipment inspection or hurry through a task so quickly a gate gets left open. Keeping a level head and working at a reasonable pace will prevent slip-ups, which will only slow you down.
Lastly, think about your mental health. Accept the things that are outside of your control – milk prices, feed prices, market demand, weather, and other people. Don't stress over aspects that you cannot change. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed – don't ignore it. Minnesota Farm Advocates and the Minnesota Farmer Assistance Network (MFAN) offer counseling, legal advice, and a help hotline. Minnesota Farm Advocates can be reached at 1-800-967-2474. Minnesota Farmer Assistance Network's number is 1-877-898-6326.
Safety is important on any farm all year round, not just during one week or one season. Keep in mind equipment safety, livestock safety, personal health, worker training, and maintaining a culture of safety in order to keep your farm a safe and happy place every day of the year.