OSHA official discusses staying safe on farms

posted Jan. 9, 2018 7:19 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jenessa Freidhof, Regional Editor | jenessa.freidhof@ecpc.com

STEVENS POINT — Agriculture is a dangerous industry, with more than 200 agricultural workers suffering a lost-work-time injury every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mary Bauer, outreach person for the Eau Claire Occupational Safety and Health Administration office, discussed some of the ways OSHA works to make agricultural workplaces safer during a Jan. 4 Agriculture Safety Connection Seminar.

Farmers often continue to do things the same way as they have always done until something bad happens, Bauer said. Instead of following that approach, she said farmers should identify the risks on their farms and find ways to mitigate them or remove them completely.

“You don’t want an accident to be the moment you change your ways,” Bauer said.

Bauer noted an accident that happened near Eau Claire several years ago when a farm worker who had been working a significant amount of time drove a skid loader into a manure pit and drowned.

“It was brown on brown and he couldn’t see where the change in elevation was. The farmer noticed he was missing along with their skid loader and ended up dropping a chain into the pit and heard it clank against the skid loader,” Bauer said.

After the accident, OSHA began the Dairy Local Emphasis Program as well as outreach programs to help dairy farm owners with at least 11 employees keep their employees safer. The Dairy Dozen, as it became known, listed out 12 areas to look at and what requirements there were for those areas to maximize safety. The program was concluded in 2017 after being very successful.

Despite the program’s conclusion, Bauer said a farmer is still required to report to OSHA a farm accident that results in an employee being hospitalized, suffering amputation, loss of an eye or death. OSHA then evaluates the accident to determine the contributing factors.

“We don’t investigate everything because we don’t have the manpower to do that, but we look at if it was a freak accident or something that is repeatable or due to lack of procedure,” Bauer said. They also look at the work conditions and condition of the employee to determine how that affected the accident.

Bauer said employees have the right to reasonable means of reporting accidents with no threat of retaliation from the employer. This means all employees need to understand what the reporting process for that employer is and there shouldn’t be any programs that deter reporting such as incentives for not having an accident during a certain time frame.

When it comes to agriculture, Bauer said it is hard to set standards for the industry because it is so different across the board. For that reason, agriculture is exempt from virtually any new standard that is written and instead is covered under standards 29 CFR 1928, 29 CFR 1910 and the General Duty Standards.

Bauer said agriculture ranks among the top 10 most dangerous jobs, so it is important that owner-operators are educating their employees about the risks and ways to avoid an accident at the workplace.

“Safety is for you, your co-workers, your family and your community. Your decisions affect everyone,” Bauer said.

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