Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade
Special Sections Editor
Charles Gardner asked dairy producers at the Pennfield Dairy Producers Meeting one simple question: How serious do you take farm safety? From his experience visiting dairy farms, it’s an area that could use some improvement.
Gardner says Cargill asks its managers to report a “near miss” report every month, documenting something they believe is a potentially dangerous situation either in a feed mill or on a farm. Unfortunately, he said, he could turn a report in almost every day after a farm visit.
Mistakes on paper can be undone; mistakes that result in an accident, however, do not have an “undo button.” He stressed that farmers need to take a hard look around their barns, equipment and utility rooms and evaluate each portion of their operation.
Looking at equipment and motors, if there is a shield missing on the equipment, replace it immediately.
Garnder spoke about one farm he visited, where when the farmer moved in “he must have pulled every shield off” the feed distribution system in the feed room. The farmer had a long beard. Gardner cringed every time he watched this farmer work around the motors and conveyor belts, fearing a terrible accident. Farmers might believe that the shield is not necessary because they are always careful, but what if you slip and fall? That’s why they are important, to eliminate the preventable accidents, Gardner said.
Bulls are dangerous, and Gardner says everyone talks about being careful around larger, older bulls, but he said some smaller, younger bulls that can be just as aggressive and have landed farmers or employees in the hospital.
Gardner showed a photo of one young bull, and ironically on the day he took the photo and suggested that the farmer be more careful when working around him, was the day that the bull turned on the farmer. The farmer was in the pen, fixing a water bowl with his back to the bull; that was when he struck. He challenged farmers to be aware of becoming too relaxed around the herd bull.
Tractors and kids were a big point for Gardner, in part, because he had a near miss as a child. His uncle took him for a ride on a tractor, allowing him to ride on the fender. His uncle had to make a hard break and he fell off. His uncle missed running him over by mere inches. “I almost became a statistic,” he said. Kids are fascinated by tractors, but farmers need to practice safety first. Considering the other risk, allowing children to ride in the bucket of a tractor or skid steer, the kids will have fun, but it could be costly.
There have been several cases of kids being run over by a skid steer in Pennsylvania, because the bucket was bounced and they fell out. The operator did not see the child until it was too late.
Looking in the barn, another area for review is the electric box. He showed a photo of ill-kept boxes missing covers and wires showing. In addition to the fire risk, there is a personal safety risk. Many utility rooms also serve as a storage area. Gardner spoke of one farm where the farmer had to perform several acrobatic moves to pull items off a storage shelf under a poorly managed electrical box, or risk being shocked.
Most importantly, he said farmers need to establish a culture of safety around the barn, starting with themselves. Employees, children and grandchildren will follow their example. And, if they see the farmer taking risky shortcuts, they will think, “if they can do it, so can I.”
He provided a safety checklist for farmers to utilize to highlight areas of improvement at the farm, stressing that they do not want to become an accident statistic.