Safety Training Helps Retain Feedlot Employees

By: Jennifer Garreau

Employee turnover is costly, costing feedlots time and money to find and train new employees, which is why retaining good employees is a top priority. While keeping employees happy with their jobs is a mixed bag of factors for each individual employee, safety training can make the difference between having a happy employee or a frustrated one.

The International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health reports that agriculture related jobs rank the highest of any industry in injury and fatality rates, resulting in 479 fatalities in 2013. Accidents are also costly to employers. According to workers’ compensation statistics animal handling injuries range from $41,000 to $100,000 per accident.p10

While we know that working in a feedlot is always potentially hazardous, especially when you consider that you are working with live animals that have minds of their own, injury rates have repeatedly proven that experience and training are vital components for a safe workplace.

“All the research I’ve read shows that a good safety program helps retain employees and makes them better at their job,” said Brady Miller Regulatory Manager of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA). “When employees feel that their employer cares about them, they will do a better job.”

For the last 25 years, TCFA has offered Safety Made Simple, a hands on interactive safety training program specifically designed for feedlots. The program offers training in several areas including confined space, lockout- tagout, cowboy training, personal protective equipment, oxy-fuels training, machine guarding, emergency action plans, mobile equipment, fire extinguisher and haz-com training.

The unique program gives managers the opportunity to watch and track their employees’ performance during the training.

“Most accidents in a feedyard occur when handling cattle because of frustration, complacency and not paying attention or by being in a hurry,” said Miller. “While there are no easy answers to preventing all accidents it all comes back to proper safety training.”

TCFA also offers seminars where they bring in experts to teach cattle handling.

When safety is made part of a feedlots operational culture and part of the daily routine the chances of accidents are dramatically reduced. This begins with management. No feedlot manager would ask an inexperienced employee to load a $180,000 feed truck with a $250,000 payloader due to the potential financial consequences. Yet the same manager often overlooks the costs that arise when an employee isn’t properly trained, especially when it comes to animal handling.

Training allows an employee to learn to be proactive in times of risk or danger instead of reactive and prepares them for the day-to-day expectations that management counts on, said Miller. “They are better prepared to manage issues and problems that arise.”

Competent and satisfied employees also create a positive work environment. It’s fun to work with others who love what they do and do it well.

Managers should not overlook their own influences. An employee’s relationship with management is also a determining factor in whether or not employees stay engaged and committed to their job. It’s important for management to demonstrate a positive attitude toward safety to help eliminate the chance that employees could be put in danger.

A Florida State University study found that ninety percent of employees don’t really understand what is expected of them at work and even if they do they don’t know why. When an employee isn’t sure what is expected of them the results can’t be positive, especially when the lives of animals are at stake and the pace of change is taken into consideration. How motivated can you be to do something when you don’t know why you’re doing it?

The study stated that “these findings cost American organizations, hundreds of millions of dollars each year in both direct and indirect cost.” All the more reason to hire the right people to start with, employees who fit the requirements of the job and have basic agricultural skills including animal handling, equipment operation and maintenance.

“When an employee doesn’t know how to properly meet the needs of the cattle or know how to use the equipment they get frustrated and that’s when accidents happen,” he said. “Training helps keep employees calm, cool and collected. A frustrated employee is not going to stick around very long.”

Most employees in the study cited management’s failure to be transparent and communicate as the cause of their lack of understanding. Having systems in place for employees to give feedback and not just once a year in an annual performance review will help managers provide better direction. Asking employees what works and what doesn’t also creates more satisfied employees.

Regular and accessible training offers opportunities for employees to gain new skills and personal development which motivate them to be better at their jobs and can make all the difference between a thriving vs. surviving feedlot and its bottom line.

“The employees really like the system and the specialized training. We get very positive feedback about the program,” said Miller.

For more information about Safety Made Simple call TCFA at (806)358-3681.