Beef Producer Safety Principles

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The range of safety practices for beef producers covers many areas. Among the key principles for staying safe around livestock are the prevention of slips, trips and falls and protecting your back. Other important health safety practices include protecting your hearing, staying hydrated, using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) in dusty environments, and taking time for mental health and wellbeing.

“In 2019, statistics showed that slips, trips and falls were the third most frequent fatal work event in the agriculture industry,” explains Linda Emanuel, R.N., Ag Producer and AgriSafe Network community health director. “Most of the reported falls occurred at a low level, which is less than 10 feet. Those incidents involved a ladder, fence, a piece of farm machinery or tractor.”

In Nebraska’s cattle ranching industry, four deaths resulting from slips, trips or low-level falls were reported in 2019. Emanuel advises beef producers to be mindful of their environment to help prevent these kinds of accidents.

“The most frequent factor in these incidents is human error,” Emanuel says. “In about 54 percent of accidents, people are distracted by an animal or someone talking to them. Hopefully beef producers stay off their cell phone when they’re working with cattle.”

Good housekeeping habits include keeping debris, tools and power cords put away. Clear out water bottles and garbage from tractors and work areas.

Maintaining three points of contact as much as possible when climbing in and out of equipment or getting on a ladder is key to avoiding a fall. Keep two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, in contact with equipment or ladders at all times.

Wear proper footwear, with water-wicking properties, when necessary, to help maintain footing and good balance.

“I know it may seem easier to climb a gate than to open it, but falling from a gate can result in an injury that requires weeks of recovery,” Emanuel says.

Emanuel recommends working smarter, not harder when it comes to avoiding back injuries.

“There is no replacement for a healthy back,” she says. “It’s one of the most valuable tools on the ranch and the farm. Back pain is the second most common cause for loss of work in any workplace. Nearly 80 percent of people experience their first back pain between the ages of 20 and 40. It’s never too early to learn how to protect your back when you’re working in the ag industry.”

Injuries don’t always occur with lifting. Prolonged sitting, slipping or falling, repetitive movements or a push-pull scenario can elevate risk for back injuries.

“We may not immediately experience back pain when we lift something that puts excess strain on our back,” Emanuel says. “However, repeated pressure can lead to debilitating strains or sprains or herniated discs.”

Anytime it’s necessary to lift or move a heavy object, it’s helpful to determine that there is a clear path to the destination for the object. Keeping the spine in good alignment during the lift and bending at the knees, engaging core abdominal muscles and using glute muscles rather than back muscles to lift will help reduce back strain.

Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent and can happen either from a one-time loud burst or repeated exposure to noise above 85 decibels. Common activities such as pounding a hammer on metal, fence post drivers and grain augers (especially when they’re empty) can all affect hearing quality.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Emanuel says. “The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a free app that measures the decibels of noise. It can be very helpful to use it to test the level of noise you’re exposed to in different environments on your operation. Explore the range of hearing protection that’s available and keep it in a convenient location.”

Staying hydrated is important for overall health. Be mindful that, in addition to high temperatures, working around equipment that generates heat and wearing heavy clothing adds to heat stress for the body. Whenever you work in high humidity or high temperature conditions, drink water every 15 minutes, even if you don’t feel thirsty. With any sign of dizziness, nausea or fainting, move to a cool area as quickly as possible. Seek medical attention if symptoms don’t quickly subside.

“Agricultural workers are exposed to a myriad of hazard dust and molds,” Emanuel says. “Keep in mind that what you inhale isn’t just dust particles. It could be molds, spores, even particles from medical products used for animals.”

Stored feeds, hay and bedding are also sources of hazardous dust particles. Whenever possible, avoid dusty environments. If it’s necessary to work in a dusty environment, use a NIOSH-certified N95 respirator.

“Use a two-strap headband mask versus the ear loop,” Emanuel says. “It provides more secure protection. It may be difficult to find the proper mask locally. In recent months, online sources have provided the best product selections.”

Don’t dismiss the impact of stress on both physical and mental health. Long-term accumulated stress can greatly affect people in the ag industry.

“In our industry we tend to have a rugged, stoic perspective, believing we can overcome anything,” Emanuel says. “When it comes to mental wellbeing, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help or just find someone who will listen. Communicate with family members and know that there is a range of available resources no matter where we live.”

For more details on these and other ag safety topics, visit the AgriSafe Network, https://www.agrisafe.org/.

Written by: Loretta Sorensen and Aaron Yoder, Central States Center for Ag Safety and Health
Source: Nebraska Cattleman Magazine September 2021

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