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Communicating for Safety

Libby Eiholzer, Bilingual Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

June 6, 2014

Communicating for Safety

There are many risks inherent in working on a dairy farm. People, animals, trucks, tractors, mixer wagons and manure spreaders are among the host of moving objects that create potentially hazardous situations. It?s really a wonder that more accidents don?t take place on dairy farms! Even if your farm has never been subject to an accident, it?s a good idea to take into consideration some preventative measures to keep everyone - human and bovine - safe on your dairy every day.

Dairy farm employees from rural Mexico or Guatemala have often never operated machinery before. Many things that people who have grown up on a tractor seat take for granted as common sense can be very foreign to them. For example, what speed is acceptable in different areas of the farm? What hidden dangers are associated with driving a skid steer near manure storage? When training new employees to operate machinery, take time within the first few days to review important safety basics.

So what are the most important things for these employees to know as they learn to operate machinery? Something I've heard time and time again from managers is that they need to know when something breaks in order to fix it. All too often they find out the tractor has a flat tire when they need to use it; if their employees had let them know when it happened, then they could have made time to fix it and avoided frustration. Besides being a communication issue, broken machinery and installations can pose a threat on the farm to people and animals, especially when passersby are unaware of them. Managers, in turn, need to place a high priority on repairs so employees will continue to communicate. It's also important for managers to show their employees their appreciation for speaking up; nobody likes admitting they have broken something, so making the experience as painless as possible encourages them to come communicate these problems in the future.

Managers? expectations for what maintenance machinery operators will perform on equipment varies from farm to farm, so the best thing to do is make those expectations very clear. Managers need to be very explicit about what needs to be done and why, as it may not be something that the employee has ever done before (check oil, grease, wash, fill with gas). Gas and diesel tanks should be clearly marked, and any necessary tools kept somewhere where they can be found.

A good way to increase everyone?s awareness of safety issues is to offer farm safety training to your employees. In many states NIOSH Agricultural Safety and Health Centers offer free safety trainings, sometimes in Spanish and English. Visit their website to see if trainings are available in your area: (

*Amended from an article that appeared in the May 2013 issue of El Lechero.











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