Oregon Aglink Blog

Getting Perspective on Risks Around the Farm

Posted on November 17, 2021

In the day-to-day business at your own operation, it can be hard to see the big picture of safety. That can mean looking beyond this day, season, or year to the overall pattern of safety at your farm or ranch. It can also mean looking beyond your own business to see how safety decisions add up or come with consequences for your region or industry.

A safety consultant like Eric Lloyd, owner of Oregon Risk Management Solutions, gets to see both of these things: the way a single farm might operate over time and also how its safety culture compares to other farms. Besides the human cost of injury or worse, the decision making on a single farm in turn can affect things like insurance rates and discounts on premiums via the Oregon Aglink partnership with SAIF.

Essentially, each day and choice may feel like a stand-alone unit, but it almost always adds up in ways that we have trouble seeing on our own.

When 1 in a 1000 Catches Up

Sometimes we rationalize that a risk only has a “one in a thousand chance” of causing injury or death. The chances seem so remote that it can feel worth the risk to play the odds and get away with a quick indiscretion like skipping personal protective equipment or checking your text messages while driving between work sites.

With the repetitive and cyclical nature of farming, though, don’t forget that you might end up doing something a thousand times over a decade or your career. That “one in a thousand” is bound to catch up sooner or later.

Another way of looking at “one in a thousand” is not whether you finally faced the odds after a thousand tries, but a common workplace behavior at farms across your industry might happen a thousand times in a year. Someone will probably face the bad side of those odds between January and December. The stories can show up in local papers or the safety reports from state agencies. They may seem remote and anonymous, but in some ways they can also seem familiar: how many times have you or a coworker taken the same risk? 

Adding up the Costs

On top of that uncertainty about where and when, the consequences can be unpredictable. Let’s take a common scenario like jumping down from a piece of equipment, maybe from the ladder on a combine or the side of a flatbed trailer.

Young and fit employees might look at the jump-down as something easy, convenient, and even fun. Older employees might have the bad knees from a few decades of similar abuse–that too is a sort of cost to the repetitive behavior, even if it doesn’t seem like the “one in a thousand” injury that we might come up with when brainstorming how a jump could go wrong.

Ask a group of workers in the break room “what could happen?” and the list is easy to generate: sprained ankles or knees, broken bones, slips that lead to a head injury and so forth. Sometimes the lists of potential injuries can even get pretty creative and the exercise even seems silly.

It can feel dramatic to point out that 15% of accidental workplace fatalities happen as the result of slips, trips, and falls, because so many slips, trips, and falls end up being minor. In many cases, you stand up, brush yourself off, and hope no one saw it happen. On the other hand, that statistic illustrates how seriously one can be injured during a common occurrence most of us have experienced.

The truth is that there is a large spectrum of risk for some common behaviors on the farm, but very little range of reward. Unlike casinos, the “one in a thousand” odds for farms are typically about what you stand to lose rather than gain. The savings of time or materials may add up slowly over time, but rarely would they ever outweigh the potential risk of you or another person getting gravely injured on-site.

What You Can Do

At Oregon Risk Management Solutions, Lloyd has some suggestions for action Items you can implement at your own operation:

  • Talk about habits at the safety meeting: “Our challenge to you is to take this back to your group on the farm where you’ve tricked yourself into thinking something is good practice just because nothing bad has happened yet,” says Lloyd. Think about the daily habits, from seatbelts to ladders or chemical usage, where the bad outcomes merit a closer look at the behaviors preceding them.
  • Take close calls or stories from similar farms a little more seriously: According to Lloyd, close calls are a chance to “ask what action items would we take if this were a serious injury rather than a near-miss.” Reporting on close calls in a safety meeting can lead to some nervous laughs or teasing, but the trick is to follow up: “take the same action either way,” says Lloyd, whether it resulted in an injury or not.

Patterns and behavior matter over time, especially when they become models for other employees. That’s why it’s a “safety culture” and not just a set of rules. As much as we might see routines on the farm from day to day or season to season, new situations do come up. Our ability to apply some good safety practices can mean staying safe that first time and establishing a habit that keeps our workplace safe in future situations as well.

-Allison Cloo