Create a culture of safety on your farm


Quick facts

  • Hire and train employees who value safety and will promote it on the farm.
  • Set a good example for employees and show you are not above the rules.
  • Give and receive good feedback to and from others.
  • Make safety on the farm a group effort and measure and reward success to everyone on the farm.
  • Create emergency action plans for natural disasters or other emergencies on the farm.
A man and woman walking in barn looking at cows.

Nonfatal injuries, including both lost-time and no lost-time accidents, occur to about a third of the farm population annually. It has been estimated that 80% of farm accidents result from carelessness or failure to deal with hazards safely. Many accidents are avoidable, and having a culture of safety can help you avoid them on your farm.

When talking about creating a culture of safety on a farm, there are six components to keep in mind:

  1. Hiring and training.
  2. Setting an example.
  3. Giving and getting feedback.
  4. Making it a group effort.
  5. Measuring and rewarding success.
  6. Having a plan “just in case.”

Keep in mind that this isn’t just for “big farms” with scores of employees, it’s for any farm with any number of people working on it.

Hiring and training employees

Try to hire employees who take safety seriously and emphasize how important it is to you through the entire hiring and training process. The more we teach people what we are looking for in our farm culture, the more likely it will become a reality.

Whatever type of training you do, you should talk about the kind of culture you’re going for. Describe the way you’d like things to be working. Talk about the informal ways in which you envision the farm being a work environment that encourages safety and takes every step to uphold that.

It’s okay to talk about what you want to change in the current culture. There’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “You may notice that a few people take shortcuts on certain jobs. We’re working on building a culture of safety and encourage regular equipment checks, etc. My expectation is that you will take all proper safety precautions regardless of what others may still do. I’m looking for you to help lead the way to make this cultural improvement.”

Set an example of good culture

We’ve all heard many times about setting a good example for others and, no matter how many times you hear it, it’s still true. Farm culture isn’t about what we say, it’s about what we do. A leader’s influence is very strong, and that is no different on the farm. Setting an example will show everyone on your farm what the expectation is, and prove that you are no exception to the expectation.

Give and get feedback

Feedback plays a major role in any organization. It allows you to know what works and what doesn’t as you develop your farm culture.

Keep in mind that feedback is a two-way street. You should not only give feedback on performance as it relates to farm safety but listen to feedback from others on farm safety practices that are and aren’t working. This is a great way for others on the farm to share their ideas and become truly invested in being a part of the farm culture.

Make it a group effort

Everyone is responsible for farm safety, and one individual should not be blamed for a mistake or near miss. Your farm culture should make everyone comfortable enough to correct mistakes or find solutions. How do we avoid the old saying, “If it’s everyone’s job, no one does it”? Work with everyone on your farm to understand that if something does happen, it’s due to a failure of the whole system, not one person.

Measure and reward success

Decide how you measure an effective practice of farm safety. Is it a season without accidents? Is it no one gets hurt in the parlor? Determine as a team how you’re going to measure your success.

Then, decide how you reward effective farm safety. A bonus check for employees? A pizza party? Verbal recognition? Include everyone in deciding what reward looks like. It is important to know what motivates people and what they find most rewarding.

Have a plan “just in case”

Even on the safest farms, accidents happen. Someone could get hurt or an animal could get out of control. Disasters such as floods and tornados can happen. Having a plan in place before tragedy strikes can minimize its impact.

Having an emergency action plan will enhance the culture of safety on your farm. It shows everyone on the team that staying organized and on task, even in an emergency, is important to you because it helps keep people safe.

Make planning and encouraging safety a priority, and express that it is a priority to others. Treat parents, siblings and spouses as fellow leaders in the effort to get their buy-in. If you are getting resistance, remind them that accidents are costly in more ways than one.

Author: Emily Krekelberg, Extension farm safety and health educator