On average, 700 people get killed per year while working in agriculture in the United States. While many agricultural jobs might have you working out in a field or shop by yourself, we know that most farms or ranches involve some sort of connection with other people, whether it’s fellow employees or family who help run the operation. That means roughly twice a day, a group of people are coming to terms with the loss of a friend or coworker due to an accident on the farm.
On top of the loss of human health or life, and the costly penalties or expenses that can add up as a result, accidents on the farm can attract more accidents as workers are dealing with stress and grief. Their focus may not always be on the task at hand, and that’s a recipe for even more tragedy.
“We see a link between a bad incident occurring and a recurrence of other injuries,” says Eric Lloyd of Oregon Risk Management Solutions. Rather than seeing it as compounding bad luck, though, he suggests some strategies that can help prevent accidents in the first place as well as the other accidents that follow.
Mindset matters. “In an incident analysis, one of the things you traditionally delve into is mindset,” says Lloyd. If your focus is divided, can you take 5 minutes to write down the problem for later and center on the task at hand? Do you need water, food, or a quick break to get your bearings?
Set an Example. We know that people often take their cues from the group or a strong leader. If you start with “I’m having a hard time today. If I mess up and forget my safety glasses will you remind me?” that makes it easier for others to watch your back and speak up. This habit also makes it easier for someone to say “Hey, it seems like you’re having a hard day. What can I do?”
As Lloyd says, “We can pretend to be big tough John Wayne types all we want, but John Wayne probably had bad days too.”
There are high standards and tough jobs everywhere in agriculture. It might seem counterintuitive to slow down and check in with each other, but that might just save you from a first accident as well as the likelihood of another right after.
As always, safety doesn’t have to be at odds with productivity when it means preventing costly accidents or time lost due to repairs. Cultivating a safety culture that includes check-ins and chances to refocus or address problems is a good investment for any operation, but especially one recovering from a recent accident or loss.
by Allison Cloo