March 30, 2021

Minimizing hazards in the agricultural industry

Colorado’s agricultural industry is a powerhouse, contributing more than $41 billion to the state’s economy and filling our plates with flavorful Olathe sweet corn, Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford cantaloupes and some of the best red meat on the planet. But those fruits come with much labor.

Farm life has always been defined by the work: Too much to do, too few hours to do it. Colorado’s labor shortage is making it even harder to get everything done and stay safe.

The 3 percent of Coloradans working in the agriculture industry face unique workplace hazards. Many interact with large animals that can be unpredictable. A fall from a horse or kick from a cow can put a worker in the hospital for weeks. Most employees in the state work in climate-controlled workplaces, but ag workers have to get the job done in heat, rain, snow, dirt and animal waste. And accidents with heavy machinery, while rare, are often catastrophic.

That’s not all. Many agricultural operations, especially dairies, have a large number of Spanish-speaking employees, which can hinder clear communications about safety. Employers sometimes feel they have to compromise safety rules to retain employees in an industry with turnover around 50 percent. Then there’s the farm and ranching culture that can emphasize the traditional way of doing things over safe workplace practices.

Despite these challenges and hazards, farm and ranch operators can take steps to keep their employees safe. In fact, it’s the law. While OSHA has an exemption for small farms, operations with more than ten workers are subject to the same rules as any other employer in general industry.

“A good place to start is with a written safety program,” said David Knell, Pinnacol safety consultant. “Formalizing how to safely work with animals, operate heavy machinery, and lift calves, chemical drums and hay bales helps prevent injuries and establish a safety culture.”

Every operation is different, so educating employees on the specifics of their role is key. Fortunately, employers don’t have to develop that training themselves. Pinnacol offers dozens of resources for Colorado’s agriculture employers, including:

Colorado’s farmers and ranchers feed the state and the economy. Keeping them safe on the job benefits us all.

Can somebody pass the lamb chops?