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6 Ways to Create a Culture of Safety on Your Farm

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
July 13, 2016        
           
Source:  Emily Wilmes, Extension Educator-Livestock
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

 

6 Ways to Create a Culture of Safety on Your Farm
By Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (07/13/2016) — When you hear about “creating a culture of farm safety,” what comes to mind?  Does it seem like something you already do?  Or something you could do?  What does a “culture of farm safety” even mean?  There are many definitions of the word culture, and most common is, “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious or social group.”  An alternative definition is, “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”  The second definition seems to be more fitting when talking about creating a culture on your farm.  Which brings us to the next question: how do we “create” a culture? 

When talking about creating a culture of safety on a farm, there are 6 components to keep in mind: hiring and training, setting an example, giving and getting feedback, making it a group effort, measuring and rewarding success, and having a plan “just in case.”  Keep in mind that this isn’t just for “big farms” with scores of employees--it’s for any farm with any number of people working on it!  Let’s breakdown the 6 parts to creating a culture of farm safety.

Hiring and training.  Try to hire employees who take safety seriously, and through the entire hiring and training process emphasize how important it is to you.  The more we teach people what we are looking for in our farm culture, the more likely it will become a reality. Whatever type of training you do, you should talk about the kind of culture you’re going after. Describe the way you’d like things to be working. Talk about the informal ways in which you envision the farm being a work environment that encourages safety, and takes every step to uphold that.

It’s okay to teach about parts of the current culture that you’re working on changing. There’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “You may notice that a few people take shortcuts on certain jobs. We’re working on building a culture of safety and encourages regular equipment checks, etc. My expectation is that you will take all proper safety precautions regardless of what others may still do. I’m looking for you to help lead the way to making this cultural improvement.”

Set an example.  We’ve all heard a hundred times in our lives about setting an example for others, and no matter how many times it makes your eyes roll it’s still true!  Farm culture isn’t about what we say, it’s about what we do.  A leader’s influence is very strong, and that is no different on the farm.  Setting an example will show everyone on your farm what the expectation is, and prove that you are no exception to the expectation. 

Give and get feedback.   Feedback plays a major role in any organization, and it allows you to know what works and what doesn’t as you develop your farm culture.  Keep in mind that feedback is a two-way street.  You should not only give feedback on performance as it relates to farm safety, but listen to feedback from others on farm safety practices that are and aren’t working.  This is also a great way for others on the farm to share their ideas and become truly invested in being a part of the farm culture. 

Make it a group effort.  Everyone is responsible for farm safety, and one individual should not be blamed for a mistake or near-miss.  Your farm culture should make everyone comfortable enough to correct mistakes or find solutions.  How do we avoid the old saying, “If it’s everyone’s job, no one does it”?  Work with everyone on your farm to understand that if something does happen, it’s due to a failure of the whole system, not one person.

Measure and reward success.  Decide how you measure an effective practice of farm safety.  Is it a season without accidents?  Is it no one gets hurt in the parlor?  Determine as a team how you’re going to measure your success.  Then, decide how you reward effective farm safety.  A bonus check for employees?  A pizza party?  Verbal recognition?  Include everyone in deciding how this step looks.  It important to know what motivates people and what they find most rewarding.

Have a plan “just in case.”  Even on the safest farms, accidents happen.  Someone could get hurt or an animal could get out of control.  Disaster events such as floods and tornados can also happen.  Having a plan in place before tragedy strikes can minimize its impact.  Having an emergency action plan will enhance the culture of safety on your farm.  It shows everyone on the team that staying organized and on task, even in an emergency, is important to you because it helps keep people safe. 

You might be thinking to yourself, “but how do I actually do this?!”  Make it a priority, and express that it is a priority it to others.  Treat parents, siblings, and spouses as fellow leaders in the effort to get their buy-in.  If you are getting resistance, remind them that accidents are costly in more ways than one.  Nonfatal injuries, including both lost-time and no lost-time accidents, occur to about a third of the farm population annually. It has been estimated that 80% of farm accidents result from carelessness or failure to deal with hazards safely. Many accidents are avoidable, and having a culture of safety can help avoid them. 

The good news is there is help available to you!  Throughout the country, there are several U.S. Agricultural Safety and Health Centers.  These Centers offer information and materials on topics such as tractor safety, ATV safety, agricultural injury prevention, livestock safety, agritourism, and youth and teen safety.  The great thing about these centers is they usually provide their materials to farmers free of charge!  There is one of these centers in your own backyard!  UMASH, the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center is housed on the University of Minnesota campus.  You can find them online at www.umash.umn.edu.

Farm safety is important to every farm, no matter its size.  Creating a culture of farm safety on your farm will keep you, and the people you work with, safe.

Contacts

Emily Wilmes
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems - Livestock
(320) 255-6169
krek0033@umn.edu
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