Be careful out there! – Jon Urness, Vita Plus
An American university once received a $250,000 federal grant to study the characteristics of cow manure. The conclusion of its study: manure is slippery. I think they could have saved the money and just asked a dairy producer. I don’t know the specifics of the study, but we sure don’t need a university study to tell us something we have known for decades: things can get slippery on the farm, especially in the winter.
In fact, across most of south central Wisconsin, we’ve experienced the entire gauntlet of weather in January. From sunshine to rain to sleet to snow, we have seen it all recently and this combination has left almost everything coated with a thin layer of ice. While everything currently resembles an ice rink, we want to draw special attention to hazards around silage storage units.
Plastics used to store your forages can be slippery even during the best of weather. However, when it’s cold, snowy, rainy, or icy, plastic from bags, bunkers, and piles can be a serious slipping hazard, especially if it is hidden beneath a couple inches of snow. Even an innocent-looking sheet of plastic in front of a silage bag can be slippery enough to cause you to fall and break an ankle or wrist, which could take eight weeks or longer to heal. Both are costly injuries for producers.
Regardless of weather, the farm chores have to get done every day, including pulling back plastic on a pile, bunker, or bag to reach the feed for the day. If workers are on top of a bunker or pile, one slip could send them over the edge. In an effort to help promote safety and prevent any serious falls, some farms have started using a tether system with their forage programs. This tether system uses a moveable cable that attaches to each bunker wall and runs across the top of the pile. A short tether is then attached to the worker on top of the pile so the plastic can be pulled back safely while reducing the chance of a fall. The same system can work with piles, but additional anchor points need to be set alongside the pile for the moveable cable.
The silage pile, as a whole, has also become a focal point for safety discussions. As demand has become greater and storage space smaller, bunker piles have reached new heights, literally. These large piles pose additional hazards for workers, including a greater chance of collapse and injury from falling from the top.
It’s no secret that farming can be a dangerous occupation. In 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported an injury rate of 6.7 per 100 workers for employees in animal production agriculture. This means the average animal production farm worker has about a 1 in 15 chance of being injured in the next year. Those aren’t great odds.
We don’t want to think about it, but it is important to try and identify these on-farm danger zones. We need to find ways to mitigate any potentially dangerous situations to maintain employee safety and communicate these hazards to all employees in a language they understand. You need to think about it every day and take action, and during the winter months you better be thinking about it all the time.