In South Africa we have become so desensitized that when we speak about safety on farms, we automatically assume it to be crime related. Whilst it certainly should be top of mind to ensure safety for your property, staff and family your responsibility lies far wider than that.
A survey done in the UK and Ireland recently shows that, in that country, farming is the most dangerous job. Agriculture also has the worst rate of worker fatal injury (per 100,000) in the main industrial sectors. The injury rate is nearly six times higher than that of the construction industry! These findings are corroborated by studies done in the USA and Australia.
Countries differ and so do individual farms. There are risks and hazards that are common to most farms and yet we become so complacent or focussed on the crime aspect that we negate the importance of managing these risks as well. Sometimes we even forget about them…
The Better Health Channel together with the Victoria State Government and National Centre for Farmer Health in Australia put together a list of common hazards on farms that speak very clearly to our South African environment:
- animals – injuries inflicted by animals can include bites, kicks, crushing, ramming, trampling, and transmission of zoonotic diseases.
- chemicals – pesticides and herbicides can cause injuries such as burns, respiratory illness or poisoning
- confined spaces – such as silos, water tanks, milk vats and manure pits may contain unsafe atmospheres, which can cause poisoning or suffocation
- electricity – dangers include faulty switches, cords, machinery or overhead power lines
- heights – falls from ladders, rooftops, silos and windmills are a major cause of injury
- machinery – hazards include tractors without roll-over protection structures (ROPS), power take-off (PTO) shafts, chainsaws, augers, motorbikes and machinery with unguarded moving parts
- noise pollution – noise from livestock, machinery and guns can affect your hearing
- vehicles – crashes or falls from motorbikes, two-wheel and quad bikes, tractors, bakkies and horses can result in major injuries
- water – drowning can occur in as little as five centimetres of water. Dams, lakes, ponds, rivers, channels, tanks, drums and creeks are all hazards. Young children are particularly at risk
- weather – hazards include sunburn, heat stroke, dehydration and hypothermia.
We certainly enjoy the freedom and openness of our farms and often forget that there are inherent dangers whether we are busy working or even relaxing and the children are all over enjoying themselves. These dangers seem so obvious when listed as I did, yet we do not necessarily think of them as we move around our property and allow our children and workers to move around uninhibited.
The obvious question is how to go about mitigating and protecting your family and staff against these dangers? It certainly is not rocket science and it starts with awareness. When last did you take a walk around your farm (or drive) and assess potential dangers? We do this to check on fences and count animals or check on crops, but do we look wider?
If you have young children create a safe and contained play area close to the house and away from hazards. Also make sure that everyone on the farm is properly educated on the possible risks and are trained in basic first aid.
Machinery and tools present a risk and must be kept in good repair. Dangerous items such as machinery, firearms and chemicals must be stored appropriately. Find ways to improve safety such as fitting roll-over protection to tractors or replacing dangerous and dated chemicals with less toxic varieties. Quads are not all terrain vehicles and should be used in line with safety recommendations and always use appropriate safety equipment such as machinery guards and shields, helmets, gloves, goggles or breathing apparatus.
The most important thing in my mind is to consult with and discuss safety with workers and family members. Everybody needs to be on the same page and agree on a workable safety plan including ways to identify hazards and minimise potential risks. Make sure everyone understands and uses these safety procedures, especially the children.
If something does happen make sure you have at least the basics in place:
- A suitable and well stocked first aid kit
- At least two people must be trained in first aid
- A list of emergency contact details at hand
- Plan a route to the nearest emergency medical care facility
- Make sure your family and staff understand what to do in an emergency
In the last instance you are responsible for what happens on your property. You may have the luxury of a safety officer, but in most instances, you are the safety officer. Maintaining a safe environment need not be onerous if it is planned and executed correctly. Not doing it is just stupid.
We would like to acknowledge Farmer’s Weekly for the article.