Just as Colorado's economy is diverse, so are the health and safety concerns of its workers.
Field workers, ranch hands and other workers in the $47 billion agriculture industry face unique risks.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) ranks the sector as one of the most hazardous industries, which is why it's crucial to implement programs to help keep workers safe.
Here are some best practices for promoting health and safety in an agricultural setting and preventing accidents at work — all of which can help reduce workers' compensation costs.
Consider cultural differences
Since a large proportion of Colorado's estimated 40,000 agricultural workers come from outside the United States, they may not speak English as their first language.
When training agricultural workers, you may encounter language or cultural differences. Using bilingual training materials and resources can help ensure your team understands safety protocols. Fortunately, a wide variety of bilingual materials and training resources is available, including from the Colorado Livestock Association.
Some workers may try to skip steps that promote safety in order to save time during a day that's already long and tiring. That's why it's important to create a safety culture and for leadership to model sound practices.
By holding workers accountable, you will underscore that safety is part of the job and help reinforce your messaging and training.
Emphasize general farm safety
Many of the top hazards for any worksite pose a threat in an agricultural setting, with some nuances. Here are three key hazards to watch for:
- Heat: Workers doing physical labor and wearing heavy clothing or personal protective equipment (PPE) may suffer more from the effects of heat. You can help prevent heat-related illnesses or injuries by providing access to fresh, cold water and shade; encouraging frequent fluid breaks under cover; and helping workers understand the symptoms of heat exhaustion, including dizziness, confusion and headache. This is especially important given Colorado's unpredictable weather.
- Dust: Farms are dusty environments, whether workers are dealing with livestock or crops. PPE, including face shields and eye and ear protection, can help alleviate the effects of dust. A dress code calling for long-sleeve shirts and pants and sturdy footwear can also help.
- Slips/trips/falls: Agricultural workers must watch for potential weather-related slips, such as on mud or ice. However, the main fall hazards are pen riders falling from horses and workers tumbling from tractors, so proper training is key.
Promote ergonomic safety
One key part of an agricultural worker's job is lifting and handling livestock. This can lead to strains and other repetitive motion injuries. Strains are the top cause of injury across all industries and can be the most severe.
You can help prevent conditions like shoulder and lower back pain by demonstrating proper form for lifting calves or milking cows and for performing general maintenance.
You can also promote better health outcomes and higher productivity by encouraging workers to switch tasks so they aren't using the same muscles all day, and by demonstrating stretches that can help them recover from strenuous activities.
Mitigate common hazards from agricultural machines
Farms can be dangerous places to work because of the variety and number of heavy vehicles and other farm equipment in use. Here are some best practices to help minimize the risks:
- Provide training for everyone who will be using specific pieces of equipment.
- Ensure safe operating rules and procedures are in place and followed. For example, no employees should be allowed to ride in a loader bucket or on the tractor stairs.
- Adhere to a rigorous maintenance schedule to make sure equipment is in top working order.
- Require seat belt use.
- Outfit your vehicles with appropriate safety accessories. For example, a Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS), such as a roll bar or roll cage on tractors, can create a protective zone around the driver should a rollover occur.
- Install proper guarding on all Power Take Off (PTO) shafts and yokes.
- Forbid foot traffic in areas with frequent heavy equipment traffic, and install convex mirrors on blind corners so that operators and pedestrians can watch out for one another.
Provide health and safety info on a regular basis
Agricultural workers have the important job of maintaining our food supply, helping us feed our families. You can encourage your team to be proud of their efforts and underscore the importance of preventing injury at work.
While creating a culture of safety is important to keep your team healthy and safe, remember that it can also help reduce your workers' compensation claims.