As spring starts to awaken the trees, it also brings the first wave of new and returning workers to farms. Each year brings a new fight for the safety of farmworkers. The start of the year is an opportunity for farms to set safety expectations and give workers the knowledge and skills to go home safely. In this post, we'll go through four key elements of reducing accidents & injuries on your farm during the early months of the year.
For this post, we will be following along with an example of the most common workplace accident: Slips, Trips, & Falls.
Notify All Farm Workers of Hazards
Within the agriculture safety world, we all face the truth about hazards that are present on farms at any given time. Heavy equipment, chains, and PTOs to name a few. By law, you must notify farmworkers of the hazards. The reality though is that employees must be diligent at all times during work to avoid injuries. If we, as managers, know what injuries are occurring early in the year, we also know what to train on. This means providing safety training for each new and returning farm employee. Make sure training is understandable and in the preferred language of your employees. Keep training meaningful by making it fast, and engaging. At Harvust, we have found that our most successful customers train on safety at the beginning of each season. Do that and you’ll set expectations and create a healthy workplace safety culture from day one.
Slips, Trips, and Falls are some of the most common workplace injuries that occur early in the Ag season. The uneasy, frozen, or thawing ground often makes stepping off ladders or moving from one row to another dangerous. To avoid these accidents train each employee on the walking and surfaces that they experience on the farm. Walking and working surfaces are any horizontal or vertical surface on or through which an employee walks, works, or gains access to a work area or workplace location. Notify farmworkers that the fruit, roots, and rocks that they come across every day are in fact a workplace hazard. Ask them what hazards they see on the ground during work.
Personal Protective Equipment
There is nothing more important than equipping farmworkers with the right safety gear. The more risks you can engineer out, the less you have to train on. In some cases, it may be your legal responsibility to offer protective equipment. Employees need to understand they must use the protective equipment your farm provides. This includes things like seat belts, gloves, earplugs, and face shields. They should use these every time, no matter how quick or easy they think the job will be. As the season continues be sure to remind workers of this. In the past, only some workers needed Personal Protective Equipment or PPE. But COVID-19 has put PPE, quite literally, in front of everyone's face. Ensure that all farmworkers understand what PPE is available for use and what PPE is best suited for their specific job. Use this L&I Template to conduct a PPE assessment to identify the hazards on your farm. Then make sure the right equipment is available.
Protective equipment for slips trips and falls is pretty simple: work boots with good tread. If shoes are sturdy and support the farmworker’s ankle, you are far less likely to deal with foot and ankle injuries. If the job the person is doing requires special forms of footwear (e.g. pesticide/chemical sprayers) the farm must supply them to the employee.
Farms must keep all assigned equipment and PPE maintained. Managers should check their equipment inventory before the season gets busy. You must also train employees to recognize faulty equipment. Each farmworker should do a quick check of their equipment before use. If the equipment is unsafe in any way it is the farm’s responsibility to provide a replacement that is in good and safe working condition. Equipment issues are in the top 5 most common concerns raised by employees through the anonymous safety feedback tool on Harvust.
Falls from ladders are another farm accident that happens far too often early in the year. Many of these are avoidable if the farmworker carries out a quick ladder inspection before the start of their day. A ladder corroded from winter weather with a loose foothold can cause a fall from a ladder and overtime daily use on all ladders will cause bolts to loosen and rivets to fall out.
As it get's warmer new safety hazards will arise. We also know that in agriculture our business is often spread out, making communication a struggle. Consistent, clear, and translated communication holds everyone accountable to the same standards. How can farms ensure that all employees are receiving the same message? Try using an organized communication platform like Harvust. By easing the burden of communicating, you can actually communicate more, and be more specific. You can alert employees to small things like changing weather conditions, or big things like emergencies. Finally, it’s also important that employees have a way to communicate health and safety concerns back up the chain of command to farm managers.
How does the employee with the broken ladder get better, safer equipment? Find an effective means of making sure employees can communicate problems to management. Their supervisor will probably be able to get them a new ladder in the moment. Or maybe this is a common problem with many ladders. For more serious issues, make it as easy as sending a text message to report a safety issue. Then you can take that insight and respond to safety concerns before they become costly accidents.
By starting early in the year training farmworkers on hazards, assigning, and maintaining appropriate protective equipment, and clear communication, you can set your farm employees up for productivity and safety for the rest of the season. For more winter-specific check out our post on managing your farm crew in the winter.