For farm and ranch owners, the citations and fines that OSHA might dispense for not having regular safety meetings can seem like all stick and no carrot.
There are few tangible rewards for years of a solid safety routine with a designated safety committee. No one gives you a trophy for “most monthly meetings”! Really, the best thing that can happen is…nothing. No accidents, no injuries, no deaths, and the sad truth is even that benchmark isn’t guaranteed with the best safety program.
So what on earth are busy farm and ranch owners expected to do with the regulations around safety meetings when they also have a business to run?
In the words of Eric Lloyd at Oregon Risk Management Solutions, “If we have to do something, we might as well make it a productive something.”
First off, what’s the absolute minimum?
Let’s say you’re an operation with a small staff under ten employees. You have the option of an informal safety meeting where you get every staff member together once a month for a safety meeting and also do a quarterly walk-through to actually get eyes on your risk areas. Pass around a sign-in sheet or take note of every employee present, write the date at the top, and jot down whatever topics you cover, whether it’s a review of the latest walk-through or answering questions and concerns. If the handwriting is legible, that’s a nice touch.
Now, even if you’ve got a small staff, you have the option of doing the formal safety committee that the bigger employers are required to do. The “formal” part means a few more numbers to consider (under twenty employees only requires two of them to participate; over twenty employees requires four) and some additional paperwork to keep around for three years, including the minutes described above as well as any incident reports and management responses.
So, how can you turn these committees and the resulting paperwork into something that benefits your business and doesn’t just check a box?
1. As you make sure the employees on the committee are representative of different areas of your business or work-site, consider bringing on more than just the bare minimum.
You’ll have the option of running a smaller meeting during your busiest seasons, but a bigger committee means more eyes and minds working out creative solutions to safety hazards and even general work procedures. These are the people who relay concerns from other workers, report what’s going on, and can compare notes on how things are running. Finding that little fix like rubber mats on a sorting line can improve traction but also reduce fatigue and lower back pain.
2. Consider those meeting minutes a precious resource, not something to file and forget.
Accessible safety notes from previous meetings can serve as a living to-do list for new projects: things to order, signs to post, or procedures to fine-tune. Keeping those notes in one handy spot like a binder means that you can look at the last meeting or, better yet, the last year’s planting or harvest. If you’re headed into a busy season, look back and see what your past self wishes had gone differently the last time. Congratulations, it’s like you just time-traveled! Make those changes this year and see if you were right.
Keeping safety meeting notes for three years is the minimum, but consider hanging onto them for five to ten. They may not look like much now, but they are valuable records to show OSHA during an inspection or incident response. Proving that you have a program and a record of improvement can save you big money.
3. Look at you! You’re going the extra mile already. Why not talk with your peers or even bring in a consultant?
There are no rules that limit who comes to safety meetings. If you’re already bringing coffee and donuts to entice the employees, see if someone from a similar operation will come in to offer their insights or solutions. This can be especially useful for small committees who feel like they retread the same ground over and over again. If you really want to get ahead of the game, consider voluntarily asking someone from SAIF or OSHA to come out for your walk-through or hiring a private consultant. While this can seem like you’re opening a door to more scrutiny, that’s partly the point. Reducing risks is an on-going process, especially as operations evolve over time. Professionals can offer fresh suggestions, including easier or less expensive ways to meet your safety needs.
For handy links to safety materials, including our videos produced with SAIF, visit aglink.org/resources or contact us at [email protected]. Eric Lloyd can be reached via the Facebook page for Oregon Risk Management Solutions or via his email, [email protected].