Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls on the Farm
Knowing how to identify and avoid the pitfalls of slipping, tripping and falling is all in a day’s work on the ranch and farm. Perhaps more than any other occupation, farming involves wearing many hats and each one of these jobs requires skill. In spite of that, accidents can still happen. All year long, jobs on the farm place workers in potentially hazardous roles. And farmers can be at increased risk of injury as the seasons shift, too. Unfamiliar routines can result in small miscalculations that can trip up veteran and novice farmers alike. Worker downtime and resulting injuries can be reduced if careful attention is paid to reduce risk. This season, try taking a fresh set of eyes to the way you and your staff operate out in the field. Focus on the long game, where employees work safely and your farm’s timeline stays on schedule. And make the topic of working safely part of your daily conversation with employees. Because accidents on the farm happen with regular frequency, understanding how these issues occur can be quite valuable. Here are some tips to help keep everyone on your farm walking tall.
Educated Employees Make Better Decisions
A smart workforce is one less likely to fall victim to unanticipated mistakes, making your farm a safer place to work. Use a job board in a break area to post details about known hazards as they come in. If a worker should slip on icy stairs, be sure staffers are aware of this condition, and post details about where and when the event occurred on that board. And make sure that prompt attention is paid to remedy the situation. Another great idea is to assign a safety manager to occasionally patrol the farm for potential concerns. In the end your farm will be positioned to be prosperous and benefiting in a myriad of ways. Employees are more likely to work harder and with more resolve if they know that management is looking out for them — that their safety is just as important as their productivity.
Find Your Balance
Working at elevations — both low and high — is a frequent occurrence on the farm. If you work with silos, hoppers, vats or tanks, odds are you’re going to be climbing up a ladder to get the job done. Be sure to keep the ladder on a flat, even surface. While extension ladders are great for higher elevations, these can pose a risk when the angle of the ladder is too extreme. Assign a spotter — or second person — to “foot” the ladder and prevent the feet from slipping.
Teach your workers about the Three Points of Contact method, which can help to protect employees from an uncontrolled fall. They are to work at elevations with one hand holding a rung and both feet planted on the ladder, using their free hand to work and get the job done. Based on the idea that they’re more in control if they have three of four limbs in contact with the structure on which they’re standing, it helps to establish a strong triangle of stability and can greatly reduce the risk of becoming off balance.
Consider the Alternative
Another best practice is to encourage employees to reduce risks by staying off a ladder altogether. Encourage them to use a scaffold instead of a ladder if they’re going to be at a given height for an extended period of time. And if they’re considering the use of a ladder for painting, remind them that they can use extension poles which may negate the need for a ladder altogether. It’s the safer, smarter choice. Thinking this way will often result in less fatigue for both feet and body.
Building safety measures into a routines when workers perform a task can really pay off. For instance, challenge employees to make each time they get on the ladder to be safer and smarter than the last time. Encouraging employees to work efficiently does not mean that they should take risky shortcuts just to save time. Sometimes, workers are unaware that they’re taking risks. But upon closer inspection — especially in hindsight after an incident — what’s revealed is that a safer way of getting a job done did exist. Maybe it would have taken a bit longer, but an injury could have been avoided. So, it’s really important to know how your workers are accomplishing their tasks to ensure that they are performing their job as safely as possible.
Harness Your Knowledge
Identify jobs that require lanyards or other body harnesses to reduce fall risks and use these measures when necessary. Remember: go with your gut. If workers get up to working height and something just doesn’t feel right, tell them to consider a different approach. Find a point or a pic on a nearby wall where they can safely tie off and attach a harness in the event that they should slip off the ladder while working. Consistency is key. Each time anyone feels at risk, reinforce the importance that they stop and take measures to remedy the situation.
Get a Grip
Handling tools correctly at heights should also be an important conversation with farm employees. Be certain that workers are always aware of their immediate surroundings when working with tools on slippery surfaces. Working on the ground is a good way to go, too. If someone needs to be up on a ladder swapping out a lamp housing, make sure that no unnecessary assembly occurs at any height. And when possible, they should use tool pouches to keep hands free for other tasks.
Silo Ladder Safety
If ladders are attached to silos, grain bins, or other multi-story vertical structures, make certain that the ladder starts well above a height that kids can’t reach. Always install a cage guard, hoop or other fall protection system. Tethering points are a great addition, but ladder rungs work as well for that purpose. Remember to inspect ladders frequently — use each ascent as an opportunity to take note of any issues. Look for bent or twisted upright stiles, broken or bent rungs. Have a communication system in place so that problems can be addressed and tracked until they’re resolved and don’t crawl up on one of these ladders without a look out person.
Walk in Balance
Working on the farm means working outdoors in every possible weather condition. Review your local forecast before getting employees out into the day. It’s also important to inventory the worksite for hazards and risks — holes in the ground, slippery surfaces — and be sure workers are aware of these issues before they perform their tasks. Point to that job board frequently in conversations about new tasks and share best practices with them so all jobs are performed safely.
Sourcing the Right Boot
Suggest that employees find composite-based work boots with both toe and shank protection. Shank protection acts as a shield against puncture wounds to the bottom of the foot. They’re a good alternative to steel-toed boots, which can retain cold temperatures and they’re known to make it difficult to extract the foot if a crush has occurred. Composite-toed boots usually return to their original shape if dented and they won’t conduct electricity like their steel-toed counterparts.
Attending to all the risks farmers face on a daily basis is a tough job. But your hard work means that you can rest a little easier knowing the farm is a safer place to work today than it was yesterday. And your commitment to continuously improve the workplace will stand as an important sign that your employees will notice and appreciate. And you’re going feel better too — by retaining employees that know how to work safely.
Optimizing farm safety is just one part of protecting your investments. Take a look at our Farm and Ranch insurance options and build the policy that fits your operation. With American Family, you’ll have board-certified safety professionals to help you run a smarter business. And if the unexpected should happen, we’re going to work as hard as we can to get you back on your feet.