Safety plans. Safety orientation. Training. Tail gate talks. SOPs (standard operating procedures). It is all so important in being a safe farm. A safe business. But how deadly is it really not knowing? In a word: very.
Any number of things can go wrong, and quickly, in a farming operation. Especially “in season” when people can be tired, stressed and feeling pressured to get the job done. This is a time when knowing your equipment, and knowing your farm team knows it is so critical.
Farm machinery, equipment in the shop, service truck or on the yard all have specific controls and actions. Some can stop quickly and others have multi step shut downs. Some are easy to figure out (a large red button for example) and others are complex with levers, gauges and diagrams.
From a safety standpoint there are two operation sequences everyone should be familiar with: regular safe operations and emergency operations. Not just emergency shut down but operation.
If a tractor has rolled forward, if the hydraulics have weakened and a bucket or grapple has dropped or closed, or even opened your operator needs to know what to do. If you are working alone and have called for help from someone in the area they also should know what to do.
For most industries cross training is an important component of safety. The more team members know about the safe operations of the whole working area the safer everyone is. On family farms everyone should have a basic knowledge of the ways to help the primary operator if something fails.
An Internet search reveals that a number of farm fatalities each year are due to equipment failure. Sometimes help is close by but unable to do what needs to be done to preserve a life. Simply because they don’t know what to do. Or they can’t understand the instructions.
Making the plan
Your safety plan may not include training every farm team member on every piece of equipment, but it should include orienting them to the basic operations and the hazards of those pieces of equipment. In the yard and in the field. Understanding what can go wrong, and having a procedure that outlines what to do empowers people and makes their work area safer.
Practice. Drill. Just like you would do for weather and other emergencies. Invest the time to train everyone who works in the yard and field on the basics. PTO on, off. Grapples open and close. Bucket tilt up or down. Loader up or down. Reverse and forward. Slow and low. Teach them, and provide tip sheets in each cab, for what to touch and what to leave alone. Simple easy to follow steps to perform basic operations.
Learn and use hand signals. Be sure that equipment that is running has two operators — one in the cab at the controls and one on the ground. Never leave equipment in gear. If a piece of equipment is running and the operator is not present do not move it until everyone has been visually confirmed as being safe and away. Always assume the danger is real and take the correct safety precautions.
We should avoid putting ourselves in dangerous positions when working. The reality is that part of the reason farming is do dangerous is people assume because an unsafe practice didn’t hurt them in the past, it won’t hurt them now or in the future. Those are odds you just don’t want to bet against. Eventually that careless or less-than-careful habit will catch up to you. Or the people you work with.
Proper training in shut down for equipment and machinery should be a must for everyone who is present during farming operations. Just as yard, field and shop safety applies to all present. It is empowering to know what to do in an emergency. Practicing it makes that knowledge applied and useful.
Lastly, never assume. Never assume that your friend, worker, spouse, neighbor, child or parent knows what to do. Never assume they are able to get into a cab or go to a control and perform the necessary function to assist you. Never assume you will be able to tell them what to do in the moment.
The more you adopt a safety attitude and practice safety on your farm operation the safer you will be. Safety first puts your business and family first. It is an investment in both, and could literally be a life saver.