Agriculture is a dangerous occupation. Accidents and injuries are always a risk when working with farm equipment or livestock, so safety awareness is important, the leader of one of the region’s largest agri-business organizations says.
Geoff Horning, executive director of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon, said his group has a unique relationship with the SAIF Corp. and with Risk Management Resources.
“We want to be the center for Oregon’s agricultural safety messaging. We do this via many different angles, such as the safety DVDs we’ve created. We have a pilot program to find better ways to help small farmers adhere to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, for instance,” he said.
“Today, every farm, regardless of size, even if you just have one employee, is required to do monthly safety education — which is difficult for some of the small farms,” he said. “This is a new regulation, put in several years ago, but is now starting to be enforced. So we are trying to help people not just become compliant but also boost safety awareness.”
There are risks when handling machinery or livestock, but agriculture is also an industry with very short windows in which to get everything done. People are in a hurry to get crops planted during good weather, or the harvest in before it rains or freezes. Livestock producers have seasons where life is hectic, such as during calving or lambing.
“Human nature is to hurry. Sometimes being slow is faster,” he said. This can avoid breakdowns and longer delays, or avoid problems when handling livestock.
“Here in Oregon, the number one piece of equipment that leads to injuries and fatalities is the ATV (all-terrain vehicle), yet nationwide tractors are still the number one tool that leads to injuries,” Horning said.
People need to have more awareness of their surroundings, and know the equipment they are using — and its limitations, and the human limitations.
“Agriculture has many seasonal employees during busy times and they may not have experience with that equipment or knowledge of that particular farm. Every farm or ranch is different; there will be different hazards and concerns from a safety perspective,” he explained. “Seasonal workers who bounce from one farm to another may think they understand safety at one farm and it is completely different at the next. It is critical to train them about those safety concerns before you put them out on a certain job.”
Even the terrain is different. Someone hired to cut hay or drive harvest equipment may not know where the wet spots are, or slopes that might be hazardous. Equipment is different from one farm to the next. On one place there may be new machinery that requires training; on another farm it may be older equipment that has some glitches and idiosyncrasies that only an experienced operator understands.
“This is part of the reason we’ve created a tractor safety video. It is designed to adhere to OSHA regulations that require veteran producers to take safety training annually. There are 9 points required annually for every tractor operator to review and if they don’t, they are out of compliance,” Horner said.
“We represent all segments of agriculture, so we emphasize that every segment has its own concerns. This is the key to safety — knowing your own farm, knowing where hazardous areas exist and putting extra emphasis on safety training involving those areas,” he said.
Little things are important, too.
“Often I see farm shops where a ladder is wobbly and hinges are about to fall apart. This is an accident waiting to happen. We have to keep an eye on the small things, too, and keep everything in good repair.”