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How to keep OSHA from meddling in your farm’s safety program

Emilie Briggs for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 November 2017

Farm safety is not always at the top of the worker’s mind, especially when time is of the essence during the most critical times of the year, like planting and harvest. Due to more movement, often longer hours and increased machine operation, these times tend to be the most dangerous.

The words “farm safety” often brings the regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to mind, and that makes very few people excited.

Compliance with OSHA standards and regulations is required whenever there are greater than 10 non-family employees on the farm. This threshold exempts a large number of farms around the country because, on the family farm, the family members are usually the majority of the labor force.

However, exemption from OSHA rules should not mean the standards and protections offered by OSHA regulations are not needed. Safety should always be the primary concern, especially when considering the safety of family and friends working on the farm.

Typically, there are 12 areas where dairies fall short in regard to safety standards. They are:

1. Manure storage and collection facilities

Manure channels under the barn are a confined space and carry the real risks of possible suffocation, entrapment and drowning. Open pits add further risks of falls, slips and trips with limited entry and exits.

2. Animal handling and worker positioning

Animal handling has many risks including crushing, kicking, pinching (think arms in lock-ups), vaccination-handling hazards and slipping in pens.

3. Electrical systems

Electrical hazards are present especially in dusty environments. Make sure lock-out, tag-out procedures are clear and followed. Extension cords are a particular risk because they are often overloaded, easily tangle, and present a trip and a fire hazard. Extension cords should only be used as a temporary solution. If power is necessary to an area on a regular basis, it should be provided by a properly wired outlet.

4. Skid-steer loader operation

Skid steers are often operated near people, livestock and in tight areas. Risks from these and other loading equipment of a similar nature like forklifts are rollover, crushing and entrapment.

5. Tractor operation

Similar to skid steers, all tractors should have a rollover protection system. Every employee who operates any tractor should be trained in the operation of that equipment, have the operating manual in ready access and always use a seat belt.

6. Power take-offs (PTO)

PTOs are always a serious hazard, and the necessary guards should always be in place.

7. Power transmission and belt- or shaft-driven components

Similar to issues associated with PTOs, farms with grain facilities will often have power-driven functional components. Be sure the proper guards and shields are in place and follow lock-out, tag-out procedures when performing maintenance.

8. Hazardous energy control while performing maintenance on equipment

From combines to ATVs, whenever maintenance is performed, be sure the proper maintenance procedures regarding jacking, loading, draining, and area cleanliness and minimal personnel are followed. Additionally, make it clear equipment is properly shut down and maintenance is being performed.

9. Hazard communication

Considering a number of chemicals and solutions on the dairy, all employees need to know the associated hazards that come with their use. Safety data sheets must be on file and procedures regarding the use of gloves and flushing, ingestion and washing instructions should be posted near the chemical.

10. Confined spaces

Confined spaces, while not assessed on a regular basis, should be posted as such in a place where it is possible to enter the space so any individual who enters is aware of the hazard.

11. Horizontal bunker silos

The primary risks in these areas are falling or being crushed. Silos and piles must not be piled too high, and proper face angles must be maintained.

12. Noise

Hearing is needed for a lifetime, and farms are often loud places. Hearing protection is cheap, comfortable, readily available and should be mandatory in every environment where the noise level exceeds 80 decibels for more than one hour. That’s the OSHA requirement.

Know your risk areas

Look objectively at your farm to identify the areas of possible danger among the 12 mentioned above. Family members and employees should be trained to observe hazards and know the risk-minimizing solutions. Ten minutes of training on a regular basis with those who work in high-risk areas will pay significant dividends in safety, health and employee awareness.

Make a plan

Once your high-risk zones are identified, take the initiative to make action plans for each area of risk. The plan does not need to be overly complicated or drastically change farm practices. Tackle one area at a time and, when you get to the last item, begin again with the first.

Safety practices, like safety equipment, need to be refreshed on a regular basis. You, your family, the employees and your insurance agent will all be happier at the end of the workday with these simple solutions.

Additionally, if people are seen performing an unsafe action, say something. Gently correct the action by handing them a pair of safety glasses or ear plugs, or help them find a safer way to perform the same task.

Remind them: Although it seems inefficient to take the time to be safe, it is more inconvenient to be hurt and unable to work. Safety starts with one individual who makes a plan, but it takes the whole team to encourage execution of the plan and turn it into standard practice.

Meet regularly

In order for safety improvement to occur and stick, regular meetings are necessary. This can be once a year, once a quarter or monthly depending on the farm’s employee size and culture. Meetings do not have to be long, nor do they have to be a drag on the day.

Start the morning off with coffee and donuts and do a farm walk. Talk about areas that can be improved and work as a group to provide ideas. These small steps should be taken first before any safety initiative is enforced during busier times of the year.

These risk management practices are relevant to any dairy. Safety simply makes sense and, with the wealth of risk mitigation equipment and information available, there is no reason why any dairy or farm should not provide the safety protocols, procedures and equipment for their employees.

OSHA requirements, even though they may be mired in an administrative bog, still provide common-sense rules for employee protection. The most valuable asset on any farm are the employees, especially when they are family. It only makes sense to protect the ones we love.  end mark

Emilie Briggs
  • Emilie Briggs

  • Project Manager
  • Mountain View Cooperative

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