How to create a farm safety plan

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farm safety collage
Ivory Harlow photo

Farmers handle food, animals, equipment and chemicals every day. We climb into haylofts, lift heavy loads and transport farm products to market. We are responsible for maintaining a high level of safety for ourselves and our families, as well as our employees and customers.

Regardless of how serious farmers take safety, the dangerous nature of our work and many hazards present on the farm increases chance of accidents. A farm safety plan identifies and minimizes hazards. Having a plan helps farmers respond to hazards appropriately, and trains everyone on the farm to stay safe.

Identify hazards

The first step to create a farm safety plan is to identify hazards on the farm. Experts in risk assessment suggest identifying hazards in 3 areas: microbiological, chemical and physical.

Microbiological hazards. Natural bacteria in our fields, soil and water can be microbiological hazards. One area all farmers should assess is manure handling. Produce growing, harvest and handling is another area susceptible to microbiological hazards.

Chemical hazards. Organic and non-organic herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are chemical hazards. List all livestock medications and vaccinations kept on the farm. Also list cleaners, fuels and other fluids.

If you make value-added products on the farm, don’t forget potentially hazardous ingredients. The lye I use to make milk-based soap is considered hazardous.

Physical hazards. Walk around your equipment yard, through barns and outbuildings to note potential physical hazards. Tools, equipment and farm vehicles are examples of physical hazards. Broken, loose or damaged parts increase chance of accidents.

Bins and containers may have potentially hazardous contents, or create tripping hazards if left unsecured.

Those of us who raise livestock don’t typically consider our animals to be hazardous to our health, but if you have ever been kicked, rammed or stepped on you know animals can be physical hazards.

Last but not least, walk the perimeter of your property looking for physical hazards. I once witnessed a child fall from a tree at an agritourism event. The kid was fine, but the farmer was frazzled. I doubt that farmer considered his tree line to be a physical hazard before the incident. Pay attention to everything in and around your farm.

Minimize hazards

The second step to create a farm safety plan is to minimize the hazards you have identified. Look at each hazard on your list and brainstorm preventative actions.

Examples include:

  • Keep chemicals labeled and locked up
  • Reduce pathogen presence with conservation practices
  • Food safety Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)
  • Preventative maintenance on tools and equipment
  • Test soil and water
  • Use lot numbers on value-added products to increase traceability
  • Only purchase from reputable suppliers
  • Good recordkeeping

Respond to hazards

Accidents happen no matter how safe your farm is. Record all accidents and corrective measures at the time of incident. A detailed record of what happened and what you did to address the problem minimizes chance of reoccurrence. A written record may also serve as a valuable legal tool.

Seek advice from a professional when you aren’t sure how to respond to a hazard. If you don’t know who to call, call your local extension office. Extension agents will put you in touch with someone who can help. When I experienced predator problems on my farm the good folks at the Department of Natural Resources offered solutions.

Train others

Insist everyone on the farm wear safety equipment and use proper ergonomic lifting techniques. Everyone should know where to locate chemical Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) in case of chemical spill. Maintain training logs and accident incident reports.

Familyfarmed.org is a great resource for free farm safety templates.

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