Going Beyond Compliance to Promote Employees’ Safety and Health

Best practices to help decrease injuries on your farm.

Beyond compliance, safety training on the farm can be the difference between life and death. Proper training gives workers the awareness and information they need to reduce safety hazards and avoid serious and fatal accidents. Refreshers throughout the year are important, particularly with seasonal work that farm workers may have not done for a year.

Agriculture ranks high as one of the most hazardous of business industries, with farmers and farm workers at a very high risk of fatalities and non-fatal injuries.

According to the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 4,764 fatal worker injuries were recorded in the United States in 2020. A worker died every 111 minutes from a work-related injury in 2020, many of which were attributed to lack of proper safety training.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide training to workers who face hazards at work. Standards regarding farm operations include hazardous materials and required protective equipment. Heat illness, grain handling, tree care, and electrocution are also topics of concern. Stand Up 4 Grain Safety offers training and educational resources through an industry partnership with OSHA.

“A couple of hours for safety training is well worth the time off task,” says John Harrell, Lebanon County farmer/leader and Chair of the Pennsylvania Soybean Board. “Besides the fact of preventing injury and a potential life of an employee, there is the potential for an incredible amount of money spent on medical bills, insurance premiums, equipment damage, OSHA citations, and lawsuits when an accident occurs.”

Regular, even daily, safety trainings and meetings can be brief, on-the job opportunities to keep employees alert to work-related hazards and prevent injuries. These meetings allow farm managers to remind employees of the dangers of particular processes, materials, and tools. It is also a good time to talk about how to prepare for taking equipment on the road and be ready for facing traffic.

It can be classroom-style with a group or an individual task-by-task talk at the tailgate. Whatever the training approach, keep track of the topics covered and who attended. Training needs may change as employees take on different assignments, which may necessitate further training.

“This also applies to family members working on the farm,” said Harrell. “Agriculture is the top industry for including family in the workforce, and while they may have watched and learned from experience, it is just as important that they be included in a formal training program.”

Required training is the first step. But taking it beyond physical compliance to promote mental health is an important second step. Understanding that stress is a natural component of farm work provides the basis for including methods to not only cope, but successfully operate in the situation.

Here are six basics to help manage stress:

  • Encourage hydration. The benefits of hydration cannot be overemphasized. Staying hydrated delivers nutrients to cells, lubricates joints, regulates body temperature, and keeps organs functioning. Being well-hydrated also improves attitude and conceptual understanding.
  • Count to 10. It sounds simple, but deep breathing is very effective and can be done anytime anywhere. Adding deep breaths to the “Count to 10” can help calm the brain and the rest of the body.
  • Offer healthy snacks. An easy-to-pick pantry loaded with vegetables, fruits, proteins, and dietary fiber can help provide daily nutrition to give workers the fuel to finish the task at hand.
  • Plan breaks. Regular breaks throughout the day will provide a time for employees to address mental and physical fatigue and heat stress, have a snack, and rejuvenate to return stronger and likely more effective back on the job.
  • Talk with others. There’s power in knowing that they are not alone. Encourage employees to ask questions about assignments and offer suggestions to make the task easier. Connecting with others may offer new insight and solutions.
  • Promote exercise. Adrenaline and cortisol are produced when stressed, and any level of exercise can help use those hormones, also creating endorphins to combat stress.

Resources abound for farmers to promote safety. A national database is made available to farmers by the soy checkoff at https://soygrowers.com/soyhelp-national-resources-info/.

“Road safety is a growing issue of concern,” commented Harrell. “Managers can find information on the Find Me Driving website to share with workers who will be driving the farm’s large equipment.”

State focused guides and tools can also be found through local state university extension programs.

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