Another risk, Reed cautioned, is machinery maintenance. While an employee may turn off the breaker for maintenance on a piece of equipment, unless that breaker is locked with a “lock-out, tag-out” system, another employee may unknowingly turn the breaker back on while the employee is still working. Even tractor roll-over protection bars may be undermined with improper protocol, in this case not wearing a seatbelt.
“That rollover protection equipment bar can only protect you if you’re in your seat,” Reed said. “But what usually happens is you’re not in that seat and you get pinned under the equipment.”
In additional to mechanical hazards, there are also chemical hazards. Reed advised webinar attendees to keep a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) binder, as required by regulations, but also to ensure it is well-organized and in a central location. She shared a personal experience of an employee receiving burns even after using an emergency eye wash late at night.
“I get a call from the emergency room doctor, ‘What’s this chemical? Where’s the MSDS sheet? I need to know how to treat this patient,’” Reed said. “Having a binder in your milk house, and then having to get that from point A to point B in the middle of the night is nothing I had ever thought about.”
Even simple tasks such as feeding can become dangerous. Reed warned silage faces can collapse if silage is scraped unevenly from the base to produce an overhang, rather than angling out the exposed feed.
“Just last year, there was a veterinarian a few years after me at Cornell that died taking samples in a silage accident,” Reed said.
Reed named multiple areas to inspect on a farm monthly and even encouraged farmers to conduct a third-party safety audit. Are power take-off (PTO) shields in place, have first-aid kids expired, are fire extinguishers charged, and electrical cords been removed from water? These are details you may not consider on a day-to-day basis, Reed said, but they are important.
Additionally, Reed requires all employees to be drug-tested after any accidents.
“Partly this is driven because marijuana became legal in Washington just a few years ago,” Reed said. “It still impairs your ability to function.”
Even with every safety measure in place, disasters can still happen, Reed warns. She recommends each farm develop a disaster plan, including details on who will feed the cows and written chore instructions for employees who may be filling in for one another. In case the lights go out, be sure to have lit exit signs, Reed added.
While farm safety can feel overwhelming, Reed reminded webinar attendees small actions can have big results by sharing a closing inspirational quote.
“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.”