Farming comes with a lot of instructions and warning labels on machinery, chemicals, etc. on what to do/not do to keep safe.
We won't find a big flashing sign to remind us of one of the most important rules to protect us: Some tasks should never be done alone on the farm. For example, there still sadly remains reports each year of fatalities and injuries in confined agricultural spaces. Even one is too many. (See https://www.dtnpf.com/… and https://www.dtnpf.com/…)
However, for a lot of reasons, farmers and ranchers often work alone. It ranges from lack of other people around to help -- relatives, friends, neighbors, or hired labor -- to being in a rush to get something done. There might be challenges to get other people to help because of the long hours, tough working conditions, and not always having someone else trained to do the job.
It might even be that some people just prefer to work alone.
Often people like farming or ranching because of the independence and freedom, the wide-open spaces away from other people, and the ability to work long past when most people would consider retiring. Advances in technology have also led to an individual farmer being able to do more work with a lot less help from others, compared to a generation or two ago.
However, almost every farm family has at one point or another worried about the elderly relative who drove off without saying exactly which field he plans to do fieldwork; or the son who came home hours later than expected because of an unexpected machinery breakdown; or the daughter who hurried to round up a couple cows that got out, and she isn't sure if the bulls are also out and how they'll react; or the helper that got a big grain truck or tractor into a ditch or stuck in a field because of being not quite trained on how best to handle the situation.
Don't forget, too, that there isn't always reliable cellphone coverage in the rural areas you might be -- especially when you need it most.
The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) recently stressed that if a person needs to do a task alone, "First stop, think and act."
UMASH added, "Stop and ask yourself what could go wrong. How bad could it be? Has anything changed? Then think. Ask yourself if you clearly understand the task. Are you physically and mentally ready? Do you have the right tools?"
UMASH posted a safety checklist for people who are considering working alone:
-- Can the task be completed at a different time with more than one person? How?
-- Consider what hazards exist when working alone, such as heights, machinery, livestock and chemicals.
-- How can you eliminate these hazards, substitute them with something safer, or create barriers between yourself and the hazards?
-- Are you and employees fully trained on safely doing the task?
-- Are you rested, focused, fed and hydrated?
-- Does someone know where you'll be and what you'll be doing? Do they plan to check on you at a certain time?
-- Does this person have supplies if you're injured? Do you have a fully-stocked first aid kit?
-- Stick to a return plan. Who will make sure you've returned at the agreed-upon time?
-- Do you have the appropriate tools with you?
-- Are you wearing all the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job?
-- Do you have an emergency plan in place, including what you'll do if injured or an escape plan when working with livestock?
To download the pdf checklist for your farm that includes checklist items, as well as places to mark if something needs correction, the date of correction or other notes, go to http://umash.umn.edu/….
Some additional resources on working alone, including what to pack in a summer first aid kit can be found at: http://umash.umn.edu/….
The extra 60 seconds or so of your day you spend on this checklist before you are off to work alone will help keep you safe and also give peace of mind to others.
Elaine Shein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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