Feedyard Accidents and the Risks to Your Bottom Line
By: Don Tyler
Let’s face it. Common sense isn’t so common anymore. We used to hire kids off the farm who would clock in on day one already knowing how to run equipment, work cattle and stay out of the way when things got dicey. Now, we have to teach them everything under the sun and pray they can figure out the rest.
Unfortunately, in spite of all that, the industry still suffers its share of feedlot accidents. We hear about employees being run over by feed trucks, dragged by horses, thrown off ATVs or pinched while working cattle. Some accidents cause minor injuries and maybe a brief hospital stay, while others lead to devastating fatalities.
The cost of these accidents escalates along with the cost of medical care. By comparison, the average expense of a chainsaw accident in 1985 was about $3,850. Today, it’s around $55,000—not counting lost wages, disability payments, increased insurance costs and lost productivity.
These astronomical costs directly and indirectly tied to feedlot accidents are why many operations are considering formal employee safety training. Granted, such training isn’t cheap, but it pays better dividends than any other workplace instruction.
In fact, the Ag Safety and Health Council of America found that, for every $1.00 spent on safety training, we get between $4.00 and $6.00 back through significant reductions in injuries, worker’s comp premiums, lost labor and OSHA fines—while also gaining higher employee productivity.
Still other financial losses suffered through lack of safety training are also evident, but more difficult to measure.
For example, if a farm fatality occurs in a grain bin or other structure, that particular facility is often decommissioned. Companies that experience a pattern of serious-to-fatal injuries struggle to find new employees. And bankruptcy rates among businesses with serious injuries and fatalities are much higher than average.
Is Ag Now on OSHA’s Radar?
Feedlot operators in Nebraska and dairy operators in Wisconsin would say the issue is way beyond “radar.” It’s already happening, with OSHA having conducted specific inspection programs in those states, as part of an intent to take a closer look at agriculture—and understandably so.
Agriculture is part of an industry sector that has long ranked number one in the U.S. for injuries and fatalities per hour of work.
OSHA’s website is full of citations for unsafe equipment, non-recorded injuries, inadequate training, lack of confined-space procedures and the list goes on.
And these are just the citations most often cited on feedlots—all bringing with them the potential for fines in the six- to seven-figure range. Worse yet, along with these violations comes an unwanted spotlight, as OSHA likes to make an example of habitual offenders.
Steps to Improving Safety
• Know what OSHA expects—especially under the General Duty Clause. But anticipate safety hazards according to your specific operation. Many larger companies write their own standards that exceed OSHA guidelines.
• Train your employees on all your feedlot’s hazards — If noth-ing else, teach them according to the user’s manual for every tool, piece of equipment and vehicle on your facility.
• Start regular training that meets OSHA’s standards in key areas—OSHA has mandated several safety topics that must be taught to all employees. Get new hires trained on these right away and everyone else once a year.
• Keep records on file—Document and maintain the safety policies and procedures you’ve established on your feedlot, and keep records on your employee training. If OSHA inspectors come calling, they’ll request this information.
Been There, Done That
In your endeavor to address safety on your feedlot, perhaps you’ve struggled to find training and compliance information that’s specific to agriculture. It wouldn’t be surprising. One of my clients and I were in your shoes two years ago, which inspired us to create Good Day’s Work, LLC. It may not have the answer for everything you need, but I encourage you to check it out at www.gooddayswork.ag.