Considering production across the different phases, from the movement of replacement females, weaned pigs, or marketing of finishing and culled breeding stock, a conservative estimate for the total number of pigs in transport on any given day in the U.S. adds up to over one million. With numbers like that, it's fair to say transportation is a significant element to consider within the hog industry.
More often than not, those several thousands of transporters can expect to have a typical day with no major issues. These individuals will have completed a livestock transport certification program, Pork Checkoff’s Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) for example, and are prepared to safely handle and ship these animals. Despite following proper procedure and the rules of the road, there has been and will always be a risk something could go wrong.
Every April, the National Safety Council reminds us about distracted driving, a traffic safety concern making headlines on a daily basis. In the spirit of this heightened awareness for traffic safety, it is important for those in the pork production industry to refresh themselves with valuable information related to the safe transport of livestock, what to do in emergency situations and how to avoid traffic incidents.
Keep current contact information
Having emergency contact information readily accessible for producers and employees is an essential first step to prepare for accidents, breakdowns or delays. Those who have gone through the process of a Common Swine Industry Audit or had a Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) Site Assessment can attest to these documents’ necessity in order to receive certification in those programs.
Just as producers should keep copies of this information in the office, livestock haulers should also have those emergency contacts on hand. Similar to an on-farm emergency response plan, the names, addresses, and phone numbers for the producer, police, fire, ambulance, and herd veterinarian should be included with what is being transported. Additional information, such as the company, destination or harvest plant dispatch, insurance provider, and roadside assistance will be needed when dealing with a transport issue. Roadside traffic incidents, no matter the severity, cause added stress to drivers and livestock alike. Keeping up-to-date copies of these contacts, in the cab and on paper, can alleviate the added anxiety and ensure key contacts aren't forgotten during the scramble of dealing with an incident.
Accidents happen. What should you do?
Pork producers and transporters have accepted numerous responsibilities in their profession; with biosecurity, pork quality and animal health and wellness being closely tied to the process of transportation. In the event where you might find yourself involved in a traffic incident, these responsibilities, in addition to human safety, property, and public perception of the industry, will be put to the test.
For accidents occurring on public roadways involving other vehicles, we know providing safety and attention to all parties involved is the first and foremost priority. Alerting the authorities, and exchanging information are also initial steps needing to be taken. It is important to remember when transporting livestock, there are considerations that need to be taken into account beyond those typical of a non-commercial accident. These would include:
- Alert emergency operator about size, number and condition of pigs on board, as well as the status of any loose animals or hazards that may influence public safety.
- Place emergency warning devices to alert other traffic of accident scene.
- Contact company or other stakeholders as part of policy with details and updates of the incident.
- Herd any loose pigs from road away from traffic and provide protection and comfort.
- Take pictures of the accident scene including road conditions, vehicle position, damage and other views for documentation later reference.
- Refer media to first responders in charge. Livestock transporters are now a visible representation of industry and should conduct themselves to reflect the industry’s commitment to safety and animal well-being.
Livestock emergency response trailers available
The Minnesota Pork Board and Region 5 of Homeland Security Emergency Management developed emergency response trailers for use in situations where a transporter has a roll-over or some type of accident requiring additional assistance controlling livestock on board or loose animals at the scene.
These trailers, located throughout Southern Minnesota in Adams, Buffalo Lake, Fairmont, Granite Falls, Pipestone, Sleepy Eye and Worthington are equipped with livestock panels, sorting boards, chains and other equipment necessary to provide safety for both animals and traffic alike. If a livestock transporter needs assistance with controlling loose animals, requesting one of these trailers can be done through contacting 911 or other emergency response officials. Once one of these trailers is deployed, responders will be able to provide brief training to assist transporters in securing an accident scene.
Key Considerations for Safe Driving:
One key consideration not only for animal safety and welfare, but safe transport, is weather. Throughout a typical year in the upper midwest, producers are going to experience temperature fluctuations ranging from both ends of the extreme and practically all forms of precipitation. In addition to taking necessary steps to protect animal comfort, for instance adjusting the percentage of closed side-slats on the trailer, transporters need to be aware of how weather can influence road conditions and their ability to safely deliver hogs to their destinations.
In the interest of keeping pigs on the trailer for the shortest amount of time reasonable, up-to-date forecasts and communication with the processing plant or destination will be vital in order to avoid delays or detours.
The nature of working in pork production, and more generally in the agricultural industry, means the scope of daily tasks extends beyond a normal work day. Intense and long hours can often lead to fatigue, and individuals suffering from fatigue who get behind the wheel pose a significant threat to human and animal safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 100,000 reported crashes are caused by drowsy or fatigued drivers annually.
Fatigue can be described by a number of singular and compounding factors, such as drowsiness, exhaustion, poor-health status. Signs of fatigue can include slower reflexes, an inability to focus or keep eyes open or missing road signs, exits, landmarks etc. Haulers must be able to identify these different symptoms and be proactive in addressing them before transporting livestock. In order to prevent fatigue:
- Understand your body and get enough sleep: Seven and a half hours is generally recognized as the amount of sleep required by an average adult, however some people may need a little more or little less to function at normal capacity.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by drinking plenty of fluids, eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise. Healthy individuals are better able to fight off illness and perform under the stress.
- Don't be afraid to take breaks or ask for a substitute driver: Fresh air, stretching and brief periods of activity can provide energy and increased attentiveness. If a driver feels they are unable to safely drive, they should pull over and alert company and destination dispatch of the situation. This is the best course of action to avoid the potential of a traffic incident.
An emerging epidemic is taking its toll on the nation’s roadways in the form of distracted driving. Between the increasing capabilities of our cell phones with texting, social media and other apps, complicated infotainment systems found on dashboards or the hundreds of other things we are trying to do or think about, it's easy to see how people have become almost absent from the task of driving.
Since 2015, it is estimated the number of roadway accidents causing fatalities directly linked to distracted driving has increased by nearly 6%.
In a situation where someone is driving and sending text messages, their risk of crash or near event crash increased by 20 times compared to non-distracted driving. Even features like voice-to-text, although not technically texting, can create safety hazards as well. Voice technology is not perfect and transcribed messages are often littered with autocorrect errors, leading to more distraction for the user.
Whether you’re transporting livestock or behind the wheel of your personal vehicle, remember:
- It is illegal to read or compose text messages while operating a commercial truck, including using voice to text settings.
- Having your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and your mind on driving are required for safe operation of a motor vehicle.
- Many company wide policies include the adaptation of hands-free or one-touch policy to send or receive calls with Bluetooth enabled technology.
- Organizing and stowing distractions before setting off will decrease the need for trying to access them during travel.
- In all likelihood, we will at some point share the road with someone who is distracted, fatigued or otherwise unfit to be behind the wheel. Although these drivers may operate without causing any incident and will go unnoticed, they are still invoking a significant risk to others with whom they share the road.
Since we are unable to control the actions taken by other drivers, there are steps we can take on our own behalf to prepare for the unexpected and handle emergency situations. Safety on and off the farm will always take first priority, and its important for those producers, employees and transporters to follow best practices, protocol and judgement to ensure the continued supply of pigs to their destination and to our consumers.