As a farmer, you have a lot to think about everyday; weather, crop yield, market prices, chemical usage and government policies all need to be planned for and considered in ag operations.
With such a focus on your livelihood and the uncertainties that can affect profitability, safety risks are often deprioritized.
Statistically, farming is one of the most hazardous occupations. According to the National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) "workers in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industry experienced one of the highest fatal injury rates at 20 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers, compared to a rate of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers for all U.S. industries.”
Ultimately, injuries and illnesses have the potential to harm colleagues and family members you work alongside. These injuries also have the potential to result in major costs to your farm's bottom line. Even a minor accident can involve time, money, people and resources, which can impact current and future operations.
Insurance is an operating cost that you likely see every month on your balance sheet. Crop insurance, workers compensation insurance, livestock insurance and health insurance for your family are all examples. Insurance premiums typically rise with the frequency and cost of claims.
You have a huge responsibility as a farmer to ensure the safety of your operation, whether it’s you and a few seasonal workers or a larger scale operation. Your workers place their safety and health in your hands. Your leadership and the culture you create on your farm will help ensure your team goes home safely to their family each evening.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to build a strong safety culture on on your farm, while also reducing costs to your bottom line:
Talk to your employees about the tasks that will be performed during the day, review the risks involved and discuss what steps will be taken to reduce those risks. Encourage each employee to speak up and share stories or ideas.
Talking about safety to start the work day only takes a few moments, but sends a message about how much you prioritize safety.
Are safety concerns openly discussed on your farm? Are workers encouraged to speak up without fear of punishment, ridicule or dismissal?
The more employees are encouraged to speak up, the more opportunities you will have to identify an issue before it becomes an accident.
Often when an incident occurs we are quick to blame. The truth is, people do make mistakes, but it’s not intentional. Most mistakes happen because we didn’t set the employee up for success. Ask yourself and your team:
Was the training adequate?
Was the workload acceptable?
Were there other stresses (e.g. weather, time of day, etc.) that contributed to the accident?
By focusing on what caused the individual to fail, you can make improvements that will drive success.
The National Agricultural Tractor Safety initiative reports, “tractors cause about 130 deaths annually.” Equipment and facilities on the farm should be inspected regularly.
Get your team involved in these inspections and coach them on the hazards they should be looking for. From a wasp nest in an overhang to a pinch point on a sprayer, the more they look for hazards, the greater the chance they can avoid — or eliminate — them.
Your employees look up to you and model your behaviors. If an employee is taking a few minutes to get a sip of water on a hot day, use it as a chance to thank them for staying hydrated. If an employee is wearing chemical gloves while pouring a pesticide, call out that good behavior. Most importantly, recognize employees who are willing to speak up and bring safety concerns or ideas forward.
Never underestimate the power of a “thank you.” You never know when a suggestion may save a life on your farm.
Everyone can be a leader when it comes to safety. It only takes a few small actions, good or bad, to impact the safety culture on your farm. Creating a culture of caring on your farm ensures all employees are looking out for themselves and each other to ensure the work gets done… safely.
It also helps you rest better at night knowing your team is home safe with their families and will be ready for work the next day.
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