The Andersons has always held employee safety as our number one priority. As a business, we exist to serve our customers — but the goal is to give them safe and excellent service. Our recent safety journey has been very fruitful, with a 50% reduction in employee injuries for each of the last three years. However, we also recognized that having a goal to reduce injuries by half might imply that some injuries are still expected or unavoidable. This is not the case, since we believe that all injuries can be prevented.
Here is a summary of a few of our recent safety efforts that may be translated into actions that you can take to improve safety at your business or farm. The first step on the road to zero harm required us to take an in-depth look at our past employee injuries. We dissected the data by injury type (lacerations, fractures, etc.), injured body part (hands, eyes, etc.), years of experience on the job, time of day, etc. The following trends became very apparent:
- Fingers and hands represented 41% of injured body parts.
- Cuts/lacerations accounted for 31% of the injury types.
- Almost a quarter of our injuries happened when an employee was working alone.
- Half of all our injuries occurred with employees who had less than one year of experience.
- The first two hours of the morning represented the most common time period for injuries.
- Almost three-quarters of the injuries occurred while performing routine work.
- We implemented a mandatory glove policy. Any employee performing work must be wearing gloves. We also focused on providing the right glove for the job; knowing that this might require the use of multiple glove types (leather, chemical, mechanic, etc.). This effort produced immediate improvement in the number and type of hand injuries.
- We know that we can’t prevent employees from working alone all of the time, but we have put an increased emphasis on establishing communication measures for remote or lone workers. This includes using the buddy system (whenever possible) and checking in via phone or text message on a regular basis. High risk jobs were delayed until additional resources or help could be provided.
- New employee training programs were enhanced to ensure that expectations and safety practices were reinforced regularly. New employees may be afraid to ask questions, for fear of looking ignorant or incompetent. So we check-in regularly with job observations and shadowing to verify competencies. We also made sure to include a review of documented procedures and task-specific hazard analysis as part of the onboarding process.
- Daily toolbox talks have proven to be a very effective way to get our employees’ heads in the game, first thing in the morning. Rather than just clocking-in and wandering out to the plant, we meet as a group at the start of each shift. The prior day’s issues are shared as well as a review of the upcoming tasks for that day. We discuss high risk work and ensure that remote work communication methods are established. Not only has this improved overall communication and engagement, it has reduced the number of injuries that occur in those first few hours of the day.
- Routine work is often assumed to be low risk. However, our experience would indicate the opposite. Worker fatigue and repetitiveness often cause us to “zone out” and lose focus on what we are doing. This is when we tend to see the most injuries. Therefore, we have implemented job rotations and frequent breaks to help breakup the monotony and bring focus back to the task at hand.
So how can this journey to zero harm be implemented at your business or farm?
- Identify the right types of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the work that you are doing and then make sure you wear it, every time. The most common PPE at the farm would be gloves, eye protection and hearing protection. Keep an ample supply of PPE at the point of use. Inspect and replace as needed.
- Establish a communication plan with your employees and/or family members. Remote work is par for the course on the farm, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check in with a quick call or text. Let your family know which fields you are planning to visit or work that day. Consider smart phone software like the Life360 app (it’s free!) to give real-time and geographically accurate information about where you are.
- It’s common to hire seasonal employees on the farm. However, don’t assume that experience at other farms or with other equipment will carry over to your specific operation. Take the time to review all the safety features of your equipment. Ask questions, to ensure that they understand what you are teaching them. Check in regularly and observe their work.
- Host your own toolbox (aka tailgate) talk at the start of each day. Make sure all the daily tasks are fully communicated and understood. Review any high risk tasks in more detail, to ensure they will be completed safely. A 10- to 15-minute conversation over coffee can go a long way to getting everyone on the same page and in the right frame of mind.
- Take frequent breaks. Even when the work is not physically hard, it may be mentally exhausting and that can put you at higher risk for injury. Take a short walk, do some stretches or rotate the tasks that you are working on. Any of those options will force your mind to re-engage and improve focus.
The best part about these recommendations is that they cost little or no money to implement. It all boils down to recognizing the hazards of the work —and then adjusting your behaviors accordingly.
I hope you have learned something from The Andersons journey down the road to zero harm. We look forward to serving you safely at our facilities.
This is the first story in a series of safety related articles in cooperation with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association and its members.