By Shay Foulk
Except for body armor, farm safety looks very similar to military safety. Helmets, gloves, eye protection, and even masks are worn (in unsuitable breathing environments). What’s the biggest difference? There is no good reason you should die or be seriously injured while farming.
Unpreventable accidents happen, but many farm related deaths and injuries are avoidable with proper equipment, safety planning, and safety awareness.
My heart aches for families, friends, and employers who have lost good people to farm accidents. Sometimes bad things just happen. As farmers, it is our responsibility to look out for our families and employees and ensure we are implementing the best safety practices available.
This Spring and throughout the growing season keep these points in mind, and ensure your families and employees pay special attention to the dangers present at your operation.
Sleep is the most crucial ingredient to safe farming. It is hard to come by in the busy seasons but crucial to sustainment, safety, and efficiency.
Dr Zlatan Krizan, psychology professor at Iowa State University, recently conducted a studied that concluded “sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress… reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time.”
Farmers who lack sleep are a danger to themselves and others, especially in less-than-ideal conditions. Nearly 50% of U.S farmers now have a job outside of the farm, adding to the sleep deficit and stress.
The military accommodates sleeping issues in high-stress environments by rotating shifts.
TIP: When possible, delegate tasks to other employees to get a few more hours of shut-eye when you need it. Also, ensure your employees, no matter how crucial to the operation, have time to safely travel home, get some good sleep, and be ready to go the next day.
“30 days of crazy”- that’s how a farmer once described planting season to me. Long hours worked, hundreds or thousands of miles traveled, and wearing many different ‘hats’ day in and day out.
The military conducts safety briefs and Concept of the Operation (CONOP) for soldiers before every mission, warning them of potential hazards or threats. At the end of the day, training and communication are the keys to farm safety.
TIP: Gather your team and talk through your safety expectations; review key points that may have slipped your mind from last year, or that have not been demonstrated to new employees. Make sure your employees do simple things like wear their seatbelts while on the road, or use personal protective equipment in dangerous environments. Ask them to maintain situational awareness at all times.
For livestock and livestock owners, spring is a brutal time in the Midwest. Snowstorms, flooding and tornadoes, coupled with crop production and balancing family life, can push many farmers to their limits.
Along with good sleep, it is important to know when to draw the line. Reid Monroe, a cattle producer near Clutier, Iowa, says calving and knowing when to trust the mother cow is always a gamble. “Some will stand and watch you, some… you have to decide if she is bluffing or not, and some will start charging as soon as you jump over the gate.”
Carefully evaluate every situation, and make sure safety is first on your mind before making an emotional decision. The military implements planned withdrawals on dangerous missions and will take the time to revise the plan on the fly. This ensures the safety of the unit is maintained, and the mission is still accomplished.
TIP: If driving to a building, driving flooded roads, or crossing downed electrical lines puts your life at risk, you need to question what is more important- that animal, or your family having a mother, father, wife, or husband to come home to at night. Utilize additional farm help whenever possible.
Crop insurance, marketing strategies, equipment payments, crop inputs, health insurance - the list goes on. Part of safety is protecting your farm’s income, assets, and products. The military, like farming, is an expensive business with tight margins. While the budget appears large to someone on the outside, the room for financial error is small, and will cause enormous stress if mismanaged.
Many members in the military and veterans struggle with mental health, especially related to finances, and it is well known that suicide rates are high. Does it surprise you that the Centers for Disease Control recently released studies that indicate suicide rates in the farming community are nearly twice as high as that of veterans?
TIP: If you are feeling down or depressed, talk with family, friends, and mental health professionals to get the help you need. Veterans rely on each other heavily when they are down. Other farmers may be feeling the same way as you.
This spring is an opportunity for you to follow in the positive footsteps of the world’s most powerful and effective military - by implementing safety first.