One of the most relaxing parts of a work day can be some alone time — doing work you love in peace and quiet. It can also be one of the most deadly parts of the work day. If you become ill or injured while working alone, what’s your plan?
Most equipment operations are solitary tasks and yet the majority of farm injuries are from equipment, with tractors leading the way. Equipment can be the leading cause of injury and death but livestock encounters are also high on the list.
Make a plan
Know in advance what the tasks are for the day and communicate that with your home base — someone at home, in the farm shop or another worker nearby. Do not change your plan without letting them know. Set check-in times when you’ll be in touch, either by phone, text or two-way radio. Plan what will happen if you don’t check in.
Make your safety part of the plan. Do you have a first aid kid, charging cord, change of clothes and all the tools and fuel you may need for the job? Have you reviewed your safety protocols for the task?
Most injuries, including those leading to death, happen when the farm operator is working alone with equipment. It is critical to have safety procedures and plans in place. Be sure all equipment is well maintained and in good repair. Ensure it is the right piece of equipment for the task at hand.
If operating the equipment requires you to enter and leave the cab frequently, do not short cut your safety procedures to save time. Always ensure the equipment is fully stopped and in park or turned off before exiting. Do not attempt to unplug or repair equipment that is moving or still running.
If you are using any straps, chains or additional equipment like post pounders, blades, buckets or grapples understand the safety requirements for their use. Assess whether this is a safe task to perform alone, and if help is needed wait until you have some.
Short cuts can be deadly. Do not be tempted to take unnecessary risks in the name of supposed efficiency. From the start of the task to completion be sure to be safe at all times. Reduce distractions while driving and performing tasks.
Working with livestock
Working with livestock can be hazardous, especially for someone working alone. Mitigate as much risk as possible by making safe choices.
Never put yourself in a position without an escape plan — whether working outdoors or in a barn. Be sure to know well in advance what tasks you may be performing and have the correct personal protective equipment with you, and that you are following the standard operating procedures established for the work.
Don’t assume that an animal will react a certain way. Animals can be unpredictable, even the ones you feel you know well. Understand the basics of “fight or flight,” the “flight zone” and “blindspots.” Use low-stress handling techniques and be willing to stop and get help if the situation becomes dangerous.
Understand the hazards of each situation and with each animal interaction. Don’t assume a chute, for example, eliminates the hazards from being struck or kicked, or that a head gate will prevent a bite or head swing. Be aware that hazards may not be a result of stress or a reaction from the animal but from you being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Understand the danger zones of the animals you are working with and respect them.
Conditions can change quickly, especially when you’re working outside. Be prepared for potential weather changes and assess whether work should stop or can safely continue.
If you have addressed all the hazards you can be prepared to surrender to the ones you can’t influence. Make safe choices.
Do not do anything risky to save time. Remember that a near miss is an indication of a hazard that hasn’t been addressed and hasn’t caused an injury yet.