Safety is not about the cost of workers’ compensation insurance. Safety is about preventing people from losing fingers, toes and even their lives on the job, says Bernie Erven, professor emeritus at The Ohio State University.

It only makes sense for employees and employers to work together to create a safe work environment. To help you down that path, here are seven steps to create a safety culture within your system.

Make a commitment

To create a safety culture, the commitment must start at the top — with the organization’s culture and shared values. The tone is set from the top down and is learned by employees on the job, Erven says. To create a safety culture, top management must demonstrate that safety is equally important as, for example, weaning rates.

When done correctly, creating a safety culture can be a long-term asset for your business  — not just by limiting costs, but also by making it easier to recruit employees. 

Develop safety standards

Don’t take for granted that employees know and understand your safety rules. Take the time to put them down on paper.

Ask department heads or key employees to help write the safety protocols for each of their areas, suggests Don Tyler of Tyler & Associates in Stockwell, Ind. Also, have them identify safety protocols that others should follow when entering or working within their area. This helps create buy-in and reinforces the importance of safety to everyone.

You’ll have to determine the consequences for not following safety rules and which safety infractions are considered gross misconduct. Gross misconduct means a person could be terminated on the spot. Consider using progressive discipline or a three-strikes rule for all other infractions. Examples of gross misconduct include driving the company truck while intoxicated or smoking a cigarette while fueling a tractor.

Provide training

Start by emphasizing that safety is everyone’s responsibility. Give everyone a copy of the safety protocols; be sure to point out the gross misconduct items.

You can review the guidelines in a group classroom setting, but be sure to include on-site examples as well. Then, follow up with monthly training seminars. Ask department heads or key personnel to do periodic training seminars, focusing on specific areas or tasks. Rotate training through each area until all departments have been covered. Of course, no one likes tests, but they can be sound reminders. National Pork Board’s safety manual provides this type of teaching structure and is available in English and Spanish at www.pork.org.

Consider having outside experts do some of your training. For example, have a veterinarian provide training on injection safety, as well as what to do if a person is accidentally injected. Another option is to have a Red Cross representative provide CPR training.

Partner with employees

Employees know their work areas and co-workers better than anyone. Explain that you want to partner with them in order to find and reduce hazards around the farm. Establish a system where they can report any safety concerns — either to a supervisor or by dropping a note into a suggestion box that is checked daily. To help employees get over the feeling that they’re “tattling” on others, Tyler suggests asking them how they would feel if they remained silent and someone got hurt.

When an employee presents a concern, you have to stop and take the time to listen. Be sure to thank him or her and address the issue quickly. If you don’t address the problem, it sends the message that safety really isn’t that important. 

Use positive discipline 

Treat a safety infraction just like any other infraction on the farm. Failure to do so tells employees that safety isn’t a priority.

If a manager sees an employee doing something wrong, it should be used as a teachable moment. Don’t simply punish the employee or get mad at him. Instead, retrain him on the spot. If after retraining the person still does it wrong, then you can use progressive discipline, Erven explains. Progressive discipline is based on communication between the employee and the manager. It uses a verbal warning, then a verbal and written warning, and eventually termination.

Apply rules consistently

Do not make exceptions for managers, family members or exceptional employees. Everyone who enters the farm must adhere to the same rules and policies — and face the same discipline, Tyler stresses. Failure to do so undermines the safety culture. Inconsistencies also open the door for a lawsuit if someone gets hurt.

Provide recognition

When an employee presents a safety concern or an idea, always acknowledge it with a “thank you.” If you implemented the idea, acknowledge the employee again. If you have periodic safety meetings or gatherings for all employees, highlight the top two or three safety ideas and thank the people responsible. Another idea is to hold a pizza party to celebrate an accident-free year.

Include safety issues during job performance evaluations. It can be as simple as having a couple of yes/no questions included on the form. For example:

  • Does the employee regularly attend safety meetings?  Yes/No.
  • Does the employee bring safety concerns to management’s attention? Yes/No.

All of these different types of recognition help elevate the importance of safety in employees’ minds and emphasizes management’s commitment. It also shows that management values employees’ input.

Creating a safety culture is a long-term commitment. However, if you embrace the challenge, it can markedly improve safety on your farm.

10 Safety-training Ideas

Providing safety training doesn’t have to be difficult, nor do you have to do it all yourself. For best results, use a team approach with a variety of trainers. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1.         Ask managers or key personnel to conduct training sessions relative to their work areas.

2.         Use demonstrations whenever possible. For example, show employees how to properly lift a heavy object.

3.         Cover the unexpected, such as how to handle an injured sow.

4.         Have your veterinarian include safety training in a future visit.

5.         Ask the local sheriff’s department to conduct training on highway safety and defensive driving, especially for the winter.

6.         A local nurse or doctor could do some first-aid training.

7.         Ask the local Red Cross to provide CPR training.

8.         Have a local EMT offer training on how to respond to major injuries.

9.         The local utility company could do a demonstration on power-line safety.

10.       Company representatives are typically willing to provide safety training for any of their products that you use.

10 Safety-training Ideas

Providing safety training doesn’t have to be difficult, nor do you have to do it all yourself. For best results, use a team approach with a variety of trainers. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1.         Ask managers or key personnel to conduct training sessions relative to their work areas.

2.         Use demonstrations whenever possible. For example, show employees how to properly lift a heavy object.

3.         Cover the unexpected, such as how to handle an injured sow.

4.         Have your veterinarian include safety training in a future visit.

5.         Ask the local sheriff’s department to conduct training on highway safety and defensive driving, especially for the winter.

6.         A local nurse or doctor could do some first-aid training.

7.         Ask the local Red Cross to provide CPR training.

8.         Have a local EMT offer training on how to respond to major injuries.

9.         The local utility company could do a demonstration on power-line safety.

10.       Company representatives are typically willing to provide safety training for any of their products that you use.