Keeping safety a priority

Written by Lauren Holtmeier

Different perspectives on farm safety offer variety of ways to accomplish the same goal

Farmers face potentially dangerous working conditions every day, year round, with each season bringing different hazards. Although seasons may change, some risks remain constant, including machinery accidents and those presented by working with cattle.

The fatality rate for farmers was the highest in any industry in 2013 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But there is good news — that rate has been dropping the past three years.

There are aspects of farming that will always be risky, but fortunately, there are resources to inform farmers of potential risks and help operations utilize best practices to minimize chances of disaster.

On the farm

DFA Insurance, provided by Agri-Services Agency, works with farmers to discover potential hazards on the farm and then works to curtail chance of injury in the identified area.

“If there’s a farm with a lot of a specific type of claims, we’ll go out to that farm, and look at it, see how they’re doing it and figure out why they’re having these particular injuries,” says Lee Hipp, senior farm safety and risk improvement manager with DFA Insurance. After the assessment, he will make recommendations on how to improve safety practices.

Hipp tells every farm he visits two things:

“One — there’s no such thing as a good claim, and two — if you’re not preparing to prevent an accident or injury on your farm, then you’re preparing to have one,” he says.

He says the safest farms’ dedication and initiative for safety comes from the top. 

“It’s those farms where the ownership takes safety seriously and ties it into daily farm operations that are the good, safe farms,” he says.

Brian Haverkamp, owner of Kelly Hills Dairy in Seneca, Kan., is one such employer.

“The number one goal is to keep everybody safe,” he says.

Using common sense when around machinery and animals is just as important as using proper safety techniques. He says that allowing employees to remain well-rested is key.

“If you’re tired, you’re not worried about what you’re doing, and you’re more likely to make a mistake,” he says.

Haverkamp focuses on animal safety alongside employee safety. A safer work environment is provided by ensuring that employees know how to safely handle and move cows. Not rushing cows while moving them and being aware of their movement and location are important, he says.

Seasonal concerns also must be monitored on Kelly Hills Dairy, which is located in the heart of Tornado Alley.

“Our employees have to keep milking, so we watch the weather closely for them, so they can focus on their job,” he says. “They know we’ll get them out of there if conditions change.”

Dave Rottinghaus, owner and operator of Rottinghaus Holsteins, is another producer in Seneca, Kan., who is dedicated to keeping employees safe. He says that they have safety standards in place for equipment usage and animal handling.

“One thing I’ve seen is kids running around when there’s a lot of equipment running, and I don’t allow that on our farm,” Rottinghaus says.

Keeping kids safe

While Rottinghaus doesn’t allow kids around machinery, many children reside on farms and are around machinery daily.

Farm Safety For Just Kids focuses on educating children about potential hazards on the farm. An 11-year-old boy’s mother started the organization about 30 years ago after the child suffocated in a gravity-flow wagon. It quickly evolved and is now a national organization with about 30 chapters across the United States and two in Canada.

“The organization seeks to address the safety issues on farms most relevant to children,” says Shari Burgus, education director at Farm Safety For Just Kids.

Burgus says they look at recent research to see which risks are prevalent when deciding what safety topics to focus on. For example, the advent of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) brought new risks to farm life, especially for children, and the organization worked to inform the public about new potential hazards.

Burgus says the first thing to look at when talking about prevention is to identify how the child is related to the work environment. If he/she is a bystander in the situation, it is best to remove the child from the environment. If they are involved in the operation, teaching them about machinery, as well as other hazards, is essential.

“The training can be formalized, like a class, or it can be Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa making sure they have sufficient educational skills to complete the assigned task,” she says.

The risk of an accident will always be present on farms. Making sure everyone is aware of high-risk areas on the farm can help prevent needless injury.

“Each situation is different, and there isn’t one solution or training method that is appropriate in all situations,” Burgus says.

Farm Safety Tips from Farm Safety For Just Kids

Tractors — Machinery was the leading cause of fatal injury for children in 2011 at 23 percent.

Some ways to keep kids safe when around tractors

  • Avoid having extra riders as there are often not seatbelts for passengers
  • Avoid having children crawling on tractors, as they can fall and injure themselves
  • Keep them away from PTO shafts if shields are not present
  • Store large dual tires properly to avoid tempting kids to play with them

Animals — Animals also present a large risk to children’s safety, and up to 250 diseases can be shared between humans and animals

Some tips for children working with animals

  • Vaccinate animals
  • Encourage hand washing after touching animals to prevent spreading diseases
  • Make sure animals are aware of you, so you don’t frighten them
  • Approach animals at the shoulder using a calm voice
  • Always wear proper clothing, including close-toed shoes

Grain — More than 900 grain bin entrapments have occurred in the past 50 years, with a fatality rate of more than 60 percent.

Ways to ensure safety around grain

  • Keep access doors to grain storage structures locked
  • Lock out power to all types of grain-handling equipment
  • Use the buddy system while loading and unloading grain
  • Don’t permit children to ride in grain wagons or enter grain storage areas
  • Always know where family members are while grain is being moved