Farm safety: A year-round priority

Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota Extension

Keep yourself, your family, and your employees out of harm’s way

Earlier this month, we celebrated National Farm Safety and Health Week. This week of awareness is strategically placed during harvest season—typically the most hazardous time of year for one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. While there is no denying farmers need to be extra cautious during times of increased equipment use, decreased sleep, and high stress, safety on the farm should be recognized every day of the year. Besides the physical and emotional toll an accident can take on your farm, consider also the financial toll it can take. Farm safety can keep yourself, your family, and your employees out of harm’s way.


Create a Culture of Safety

Show your employees and family members that safety is important to you. By conducting routine safety checks, regular maintenance, and habitual cleaning, safety can become part of the daily routine. Keep the work environment safe for even the littlest of helpers by keeping farm chemicals stored and locked away from children (and animals) and establishing boundaries around gas and diesel tanks and other flammable substances. Encourage others to help with these tasks—make safety everyone’s job.

Training—and Follow-Up—is Essential

Whether your farm consists of just immediate family members or has a dozen employees, proper training remains a crucial part of keeping your farm safe. When a task requires equipment, be sure to read the safety manual and have everyone who uses that equipment review it as well. It may be necessary to observe the first few times to ensure whoever is using the equipment is doing so properly. If you see a bad habit forming, nip it in the bud. “Spot training”—quick lessons on safety offered right at the time and place of a task—can help reduce a potential risk. Regular meetings with the entire team are a good way to check in and ensure everyone is contributing to a safe farm.


Think About Livestock Safety

Thoughts of farm safety usually revolve around equipment, but don’t forget about the cows. Keeping them safe will help keep you safe as well. An animal that is in threatening conditions or circumstances will behave aggressively, and could injure a person. A huge part of livestock safety is stockmanship— the knowledgeable and skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, effective, and low-stress manner. When moving cows, whether to the parlor or a new pen, make sure to do so quietly and calmly. A spooked or stressed cow is more likely to run, charge, or kick. Because of this, make sure that all livestock areas have easy-to-access exits for people to use in case of a dangerous situation.

An area of livestock safety that is almost always overlooked is the risk of zoonotic disease. These are illnesses that can be transmitted between animals and humans, including leptospirosis, rabies, brucellosis, and ringworm. Humans can contract these by being bitten by or handling an infected animal. To reduce risk of exposure, handle infected animals as little as possible and when it is necessary use basic hygiene and sanitation immediately afterwards.

Big Equipment, Big Danger

Tractors and large field equipment are the most common causes of farm accidents. First and foremost—and as stated above—read the safety manual. Also, pay attention to any safety or warning decals on the equipment. Before operation, be sure to inspect the equipment for any safety hazards. This helps with the aforementioned “safety culture.” During inspection, also identify all safety hazards including: moving parts, pinch points, crush points, pull-in areas, and free-wheeling areas. Before approaching equipment, shut it down, turn off the engine, remove the key, and wait for all moving parts to stop. Most importantly, keep bystanders—especially children—away from the equipment operation area.

In addition, be mindful when using public roadways. Use lights and flashers to ensure you are easy for drivers to see and have a slow-moving emblem on your tractor/equipment (it is Minnesota law for all vehicles travelling under 30 miles per hour). You may also consider using a following vehicle when moving large pieces of equipment, especially at night.

Take Care of Yourself

You are the first step in having a safe farm, and taking care of yourself will ensure you are able to maintain it. There some days on the farm that never seem to end, and it’s easy to say, “Just one more thing,” but don’t exhaust yourself. Be sure you enough sleep and rest. If you are in the tractor or combine all day, take some short breaks to refresh yourself. Make sure you are eating enough, and eating the right stuff. Eat a breakfast in the morning and be sure to take a break for lunch. Avoid too many sugary snacks or beverages as they can lead to a sugar crash.

Farming can be stressful and days can be busy, but slow down and don’t rush. Don’t skip a pre-field equipment inspection or hurry through a task so quickly a gate gets left open. Keeping a level head and working at a reasonable pace will prevent slip-ups, which can slow you down.

Lastly, think about your mental health. Accept the things that are outside of your control—milk prices, feed prices, market demand, weather, and other people. Don’t stress over aspects that you cannot change. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed—don’t ignore it. The Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline is free, completely confidential, and available 24/7 by calling 833-600-2670. If your stress is related to farm finances, University of Minnesota Extension is currently offering free financial counseling to farmers in serious financial distress. To set up an appointment, call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077.

Safety is important on any farm all year round, not just during one week or one season. Keep in mind equipment safety, livestock safety, personal health, worker training, and having a culture of safety in order to keep your farm a safe and happy place every day of the year.