Safety techniques make a difference

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Mar 01, 2007

I can still remember the feeling of the tractor-tire cleats thumping across my back as I fell onto the tire when my uncle unexpectedly swerved the tractor, traveling in high gear.

As my fall continued, the tire threw me forward and toward the ground. Somehow, my uncle got the tractor stopped with the tire positioned against my side, about to crush me if it had continued to roll.

That was my closest brush with death. I was about 10 years old.

Now I ask: What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your career? For me, it is to go onto a farm, suggest management changes and then see those changes implemented and improvement follow.

It is a real high to see quality of life improve for a customer when a recommendation from me is implemented and herd performance improves.

How do these topics relate? Our role on many farms includes that of trusted advisor. If we use that role to increase awareness of dangerous situations and to recommend improvements, then we have dramatically increased our opportunity to have a positive impact. Preventing a serious accident is at the top when it comes to improving quality of life.

Data illustrates danger

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in this country, with a reportable accident ratio of 22 per 100 workers each year. A reportable accident is one that requires professional medical attention.

By comparison, the accident ratio in the feed industry, which includes feed-mill operations and extensive vehicle miles, is 8 incidents per 100 workers.

To make matters worse, many farm accidents involve children.

Farms have a number of inherent dangers. Big equipment, toxic chemicals, high-voltage electrical connections, bulls, manure pits, silo gases, fall potential and slippery surfaces are common conditions on farms. When we factor in long hours, lack of regulation and stress, it is not surprising that accidents are common.

Champion safety

To ease those dangers, veterinarians must be conscious of their own behavior while touting safety measures.

Begin with how you park your vehicle. Children are killed every year in driveways when automobiles strike them. This happened on a neighbor's farm shortly after I escaped my fall from the tractor. It happened two years ago on a farm in the area where I work. Such incidents have been documented hundreds of times.

When you arrive at a farm, scan the parking area and back into a place where your vehicle is accessible and allows for the best view as you pull away.

Review the safety culture within your practice. Make improvements where needed. Provide training to employees and review their driving habits.

After checking on your own behavior and that of your employees, look around your clients' farms, making mental notes of unsafe conditions.

Point out that electrical box in the milk house with no cover, the open pit in the barnyard where manure is scraped, the bull running loose with the cows, young children operating equipment, protective shields missing from moving parts and people climbing into silos when gas might be present.

You also can sponsor safety training and awareness sessions at county fairs and farm meetings.

Can you really make a difference?

It's possible to change the safety culture of almost any place you work. I am employed at Cargill. We have a strong safety culture. We undergo training on a regular basis. We have incentives to maintain accident-free workplaces. We have safety regulations that are enforced. We do not use cell phones while driving. We are required to report unsafe conditions that we encounter on farms to the farm owners and managers.

At Cargill, the average accident ratio is less than 1 case per 100 workers each year. Compared with national averages, that's a big difference. It shows that a strong safety culture does make a difference.

Practitioners also can make a difference on the farms where they work. When I was in practice, I strove to bring about changes in management that would improve herd performance and profit and, in turn, the quality of life of the people involved.