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Become a SAFER Farm

Jun 12, 2014

As dairy farms grow in size and the number of workers (family and non-family) increases, providing a safe working environment becomes more important.

By Chuck Schwartau, Regional Director, University of Minnesota Extension

As dairy farms grow in size and the number of workers (family and non-family) increases, providing a safe working environment becomes more important.

An Australian program, "The People in Dairy" suggests "SAFER" Principles for farm safety.

See - identify hazards to health and safety on the farm
Assess - decide the risk associated with the hazard
Fix - take appropriate action to control the risk
Evaluate - check to be sure your controls are effective
Record - record actions you take or plan

Seeing hazards is a job in which everyone on the farm must participate. Encourage everyone to be watching for hazards on the farm. Make it easy for workers to report and record hazards as they are seen so someone can Assess them promptly.

An assessment should be conducted to establish the severity of the hazard and determine appropriate action steps -- the Fix...

Action steps don’t always mean expensive fixes or changes. High risk hazards should be eliminated if at all possible, but many hazards can be more simply addressed:

1. Eliminate the hazard when possible. This might mean replacing a product or piece of equipment or totally eliminating it from the farm.

2. Substitution is another option. You might be able to replace the hazard with equipment or a procedure that is less hazardous.

3. Engineering might minimize the hazard. Installation of guards, railings, safety switches or building proper storage units often eliminates or minimizes the hazard.

4. Safe work practices and procedural changes may minimize the risk to workers. A set of well written standard operating procedures (SOP’s) should include practices that avoid or minimize risks.

5. Don’t forget personal protective equipment (PPE). After everything else is done and there is still some degree of hazard, provide proper PPE for workers and insist it be used as it is intended. PPE’s on a shelf, in a cupboard or hanging on a hook are no protection.

Evaluate is the fourth stage of the SAFER program. Check the impact of the Fix that was implemented. It is important for employers to check back and be sure the steps taken have achieved the desired outcome. Did hazard elimination or guarding get done? Were Stand Operating Procedures (SOPs) developed and are they being followed to eliminate or minimize the hazard? Is PPE being used all the time? If any of these questions leave doubt that the hazard has been fully addressed, you know your job of providing a safe workplace isn’t quite done and you need to look again at the action step.

Record all the actions you take or plan to take. This will provide the documentation that would probably be requested if your farm is ever the subject of an OSHA audit.

The most important factor to achieve success is the people on the farm. If the people aren’t willing to work with you on safety, a good safety program will be difficult to implement. If the workers are engaged in the plan development, they are much more likely to implement it.

Suggested steps to worker engagement are:

  • Work with the workers to identify hazards and have them help with assessment.
  • Regularly include health and safety discussions in staff meetings.
  • Record workers’ input and actions taken on any safety items. This step will help demonstrate your effort to comply with regulations.

Be a good role model for your workers. Be sure to practice good safety yourself in everything you do on the farm.

I very deliberately used the term "workers" rather than "employees" because it includes all owners and managers on the farm, as well as non-family employees. A culture of safety on the dairy means everyone needs to take the issue seriously and practice safety all the time. If you don’t work safely all the time, why should anyone else?

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