Farm safety starts with preventionFarm safety starts with prevention

May 1, 2011

Although agriculture is known as one of the most hazardous industries in the United States, thousands of farm operators and their hired hands avoid injuries each year by employing safe farm practices.

By educating workers early on the dangers associated with farming, operators can reduce risks and sometimes prevent farm incidents and fatalities says Lee Hipp, loss control and safety consultant for Agri-Services Agency (ASA), Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.’s partner for health and workers’ compensation insurance.

“Years ago when I first got into this line of work, an attitude existed on the farm of ‘we had an accident or injury on the farm, but that’s why we have insurance.’ This attitude has quickly changed,” says Hipp, who has provided safety training, evaluations and audits on Northeast Area farms for more than 20 years.

“Farms are now realizing how costly, directly and indirectly, it can be to have an accident or injury on the operation,” he says. “The indirect cost can sometimes be four to seven times higher than the direct cost of an accident or injury. For example, if someone gets hurt, someone has to take that person to the hospital, so now you’ve lost two people rather than just the one injured. Farms are seeing that safety pays.”

Each year, Hipp visits between 350 and 400 farms and typically sees similar safety concerns. According to Hipp, the top five critical safety issues recognized on dairies are: unguarded and exposed power take-off shafts on equipment and machinery, incorrectly packed bunk silos that can cause a wall collapse, improperly fenced and exposed manure lagoons, tractors without rollover bar protection and improper animal handling, especially with bulls.

Once Hipp conducts his safety audit, he sends a recommendation letter along with digital pictures to the farm owner of things that need to be updated or corrected within 30 to 45 days. If he sees something that is a critical safety concern, however, producers are asked to correct the problem immediately.

Over the years, Hipp says he has never been met with any negativity when visiting farms. Instead, farmers are happy to have him visit and share his advice on how to make the dairy safer.

As an eighth-generation dairy farmer, DFA member Eric Clifford from Starksboro, Vt., says safety takes top priority on his dairy. Whether he is teaching his employees the proper methods of handling animals or equipment, Clifford says his employees understand that safety protocol is required.

Clifford and his wife, Jane, milk approximately 200 Holsteins on 500 acres with the help of three full-time and a few part-time employees. In addition, Clifford has a full-time emergency medical technician (EMT) on staff who also serves as the dairy’s training officer.

“Our EMT has been on staff for more than 30 years,” he says. “She works full time on the dairy and is an EMT instructor at night. And whenever she receives any formal safety training she thinks would be beneficial for our employees, she’ll bring it back to the farm and go over it with us.”

But even with proper training, Clifford says he has still witnessed accidents and injuries on the farm.

“Regardless of how good a job we do, accidents still happen,” Clifford says. “But, we continue to stress safety to our employees because we think it’s important. And I’ve got to give credit to our employees because they understand that the mental part is just as critical as the physical part. They know that by valuing safety, they are in a much better place.”

According to Hipp, it is never too soon to start thinking about steps that can to be taken to improve safety on the operation.

“If you’re not preparing to prevent an accident, then you are preparing to have one,” Hipp says.