Farm settings, from milk rooms to maintenance shops, are fraught with all types of potential hazards from things such as animals, electricity, high-powered equipment and exposure to toxic chemicals.
A federal safety official outlined 12 dangers farmers should look for along with ways to prevent accidents during an April 25 Farm Credit East-moderated webinar, “OSHA Inspections on NYS Dairy Farms — Update and Review.”
Employee training, warning signage and strict adherence to safety policies are all key to avoiding tragedy, said Ron Williams, of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“What is the hazard? Have you put together a plan? What are you doing to protect your employees?” he asked.
These are just some of the questions every farm owner should be asking, he said.
During his hourlong presentation, Williams also talked about planned OSHA compliance inspections on New York dairy farms in 2014 under the agency’s Local Emphasis Program (LEP).
Manure storage and collection, animals, and electricity top the list of hazards to be aware of.
“Open storage should be fenced in unless they are above-ground tanks,” Williams said.
In addition, all push-off platforms or piers should have a concrete or steel barrier to stop slow-moving tractors and tanks from backing into a lagoon, and warning signs should be in place.
Confined pump spaces should be tested for methane and carbon dioxide gases before workers go inside to clean them, and employees should be trained how to enter such areas.
When working around large animals, workers should be trained how to position themselves to keep from being crushed in tight areas. Accidents can be avoided by removing aggressive bulls, restricting access and providing escape routes.
Electrocution and shock are possible from direct or indirect contact with damaged or outdated electrical components. Overloaded outlet strips can also melt down and short out.
“You need to protect all energized parts,” Williams said.
Farm vehicles such as skid steers, tractors and fast-moving equipment — power takeoff shafts, augers, scrapers — are also potentially hazardous. Again, Williams emphasized the need for training in their proper operation, maintenance and service, along with keeping parts guarded. Vehicles should be equipped with alarms, seatbelts and roll-over protective structures.
“Employee reviews must be done before the initial work assignment and then annually,” he said, regarding tractor use.
It’s important to reduce speed on slopes and never let another employee ride along outside the cab. Workers should also be trained how to put covers back on chains and sprockets, and how to refill batteries.
Despite the best preventive efforts, some injuries are bound to occur.
At an April 26 Workers’ Memorial Day event in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Rebecca Fuentes of the Syracuse-based Workers’ Center of Central New York criticized an OSHA policy that exempts dairy farms with less than 10 employees from inspections unless there’s been a fatality, or a formal complaint has been filed.
This leaves workers vulnerable to danger and many incidents go unreported, she said.
“When there’s an accident, it’s too late,” she said. “A lot of workers are from Latin America. They don’t know their rights. The farm is a workplace for thousands of people. They should be protected, too.”
In response, New York Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman said, “The number of fatalities on dairy farms has actually been cut in half over just the past two decades in New York. That is a testament to the hard work, education and improved safety taking place on dairy farms throughout the state.”
Farm Bureau and their agricultural partners have held more than 40 safety forums over the past year for farmers and their employees, he said.
“In this year’s state budget, we were successful in obtaining an additional $50,000 for the Tractor Rollover Protection Program,” Ammerman said. “In addition, we advocate for support and funding for New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, in Cooperstown, which also handles farm safety and education in New York.”
The center and Farm Bureau partnered with Farm Credit East in sponsoring the April 25 webinar along with the Northeast Dairy Producers Association and Cornell’s PRO-DAIRY program.
“Farming is one of the few occupations where owners and their family members work side by side with their employees, literally creating a we are all in this together’ shared situation,” said James N. Putnam II, Farm Credit East executive vice president.
“Farm work has gotten progressively safer as farmers and their employees have become more safety conscious, and technology providers have included more safeguards such as roll-over protective structures and seat belt systems for tractors,” he continued. “As with anything involving people, there is always an opportunity to get better in order to strive for even better outcomes.”
Chemicals, confined spaces, bunker silos and noise are among the other potential hazards farms should beware of, Ron Williams said.
Eye wash stations, protective hearing devices and training are vitally important to promoting work health and safety, he said.
Williams urged all farmers to walk around their properties, looking for things they might take for granted that could prove dangerous to themselves and their employees.
“Take corrective action,” he said.
To view the webinar go to www.farmcrediteast.com.