Is your pork operation a safe place to work? Whether you’re an owner, manager or employee, you should all be able to answer “yes.” If not, it’s time to put a safety plan in place.

“The Occupational Health and Safety Administration for several years concentrated on oil, construction and general industries. Then it started looking at agriculture because it’s a dangerous industry that’s been mostly unregulated for safety,” says Gordon Moore, safety director for Hitch Consulting, a division of Hitch Enterprises, Guyman, Okla.

The pork industry, and agriculture in general, needs to create safer work environments. Moore points out a couple of reasons why this is a challenge:

  • Profit margins tend to be narrow, which means training and safety programs often take a back seat.
  • Many producers don’t think that regulations apply to them. As the industry moves toward larger operations and more hired employees, OSHA will pay more attention to agriculture. Anyone with 10 or more employees during the year is subject to an OSHA inspection.

To assist producers running all sizes of operations to establish and maintain a safety program, the National Pork Board has developed “Pork Production Safety System” materials. They are designed to guide producers and employees on issues related to safety and regulations. (See sidebar for a glimpse of one section in the owner’s manual.)

The set of materials will be available later this month, and will include resources for:

  • Trainers, such as production trainers, consultants and human-resource managers.
  • Producer/owners, which will include a guide to their responsibilitites and a template for developing a worker-safety employee manual.
  • Employees, including a workbook and computer-based training module.

These materials will be available on CD/DVD, with additional materials planned for the future. The next steps are to have the materials translated into Spanish and to expand the program to include the areas of public health, pathogens and zoonotic diseases.      

“We had a lot of producer input into the new health and safety guidelines,” says Liz Wagstrom, DVM, NPB’s assistant vice president of veterinary science. “Most large pork operations have professional safety officers and many of them have helped develop the materials. This is one way that producers running smaller operations can benefit from large producers’ experiences in establishing safety programs.”

Moore is an advocate of NPB’s safety materials. He’s also had experience working with OSHA, and believes it’s imperative for companies like his to work with OSHA to help the agency realize that agriculture is unique from other industries. “Animals are involved in our businesses, and you can’t control the minds of animals,” he says, “which influences all sorts of safety issues.”

Along with the NPB safety materials, Moore says there are plenty of other resources to help producers establish a safety program. Here are a few of his ideas:

  • Check the Internet. There are countless safety resources including those from university Extension programs, government agencies and private companies.
  • Collaborate with other producers or safety experts.

For example, the Texas Cattle Feeders Association has a safety expert available to its producers. This person is a full-time consultant that can monitor programs and help members, as well as deal with OSHA when needed.

Moore and other safety experts in Oklahoma and Texas have started their own Pork Ag Safety Group. Members include Murphy-Brown, Premium Standard Farms, Seaboard Farms and Texas Farms.

“It’s been very beneficial,” says Moore. “Most of the companies have had federal OSHA and state labor department inspections.” In turn, members of the safety group share their experiences to help others make sure they are OSHA-compliant.

He says pork producers should be proactive instead of reactive about safety. The more time you spend on safety, the better prepared  you’ll be for any situation. In some instances, productivity might overshadow safety issues and that’s where a problem could occur.

He adds that safety and production do need to work hand-in-hand. If one gets ahead of the other, it will end up costing you in terms of workers-compensation claims or poor pig performance.

While agriculture has been uncharted territory for OSHA, that scenario is changing fast. Agriculture is becoming regulated. Moore believes that OSHA is going in the right direction with tighter regulations on agriculture; however, they need to aid in specific areas unique to the agriculture industry.

“We need to be held responsible for the people that work for us,” he concludes. 

Designating Owner Responsibility
Here’s a quick look at a section from the National Pork Board’s Pork Production Safety System materials. Specifically it presents information from the owner portion of the program.

Customized Safety Responsibilities

A safety program is most effective when everyone participating in the workplace knows his or her -— as well as everyone else’s — health and safety responsibilities.

Assigning Responsibility

Start by learning your own responsibilities as the employer.  Next, assign clear and specific safety responsibilities to supervisors and workers.  After you assign responsibilities, check often to see that each person is performing his/her responsibilities properly.  If someone is not meeting your expectations for health and safety protocols, take steps to correct the violation.

Safety responsibilities of employers and owners include:

  • Provide a healthy and safe workplace.
  • Know and follow health and safety practices.
  • Provide and maintain safe buildings, machinery, tools and equipment.
  • Establish and implement an effective health and safety program.
  • Provide appropriate supervision and ensure clear lines of authority.
  • Make sure supervisors are trained and held accountable for meeting health and safety obligations.
  • Inform employees of existing hazards and train them to recognize new ones.
  • Make sure employees have the information, training, experience and supervision they need to do their jobs safely.
  • Provide personal-protective equipment and show employees how to use and maintain it.
  • Make sure first-aid supplies are provided, and that employees know where to find them.
  • Ensure that traffic routes, entrances and exits to your buildings, confined spaces and other work areas are safe and well marked.
  • Ensure that hazardous products such as chemicals and fuel are safely handled, transported and stored.

Safety responsibilities of supervisors include:

  • Make sure hazards are identified and proper steps are taken to control risks.
  • Understand and ensure that workplace health and safety practices are met.
  • Inspect work areas and correct unsafe conditions or behaviors before they lead to an accident.
  • Understand and implement emergency procedures.
  • Make sure workers are properly trained and that they follow safe-work procedures.

Safety responsibilities of workers include:

  • Understand and comply with workplace health and safety practices.
  • Follow safe-work procedures.
  • Use safety equipment, machine guards, safety devices and personal-protective equipment.
  • Report unsafe acts and workplace hazards, accidents, near-accidents, injuries and illnesses immediately.
  • Work and act safely, and help others do the same.
  • Cooperate with others on health and safety issues.

Editor’s note: For more information on the Pork Production Safety Systems materials contact Liz Wagstrom via e-mail at Liz.Wagstrom@porkboard.org. By the end of the month, you also may check out www.porkboard.org.