by Allison Cloo

What does safety look like? It’s more than just bright vests, protective gear, and endless paperwork. Safety looks like a team of people, both on and off the farm, who cultivate an entire culture of preparedness, accountability, and support. That includes a number of programs available through Oregon Aglink and its partners that put innovative safety resources in your hands.

There are people for whom safety is a vocation. You might get your workers’ comp insurance and even a member discount from a company like SAIF, where professionals like Pat Morrill and Chuck Easterly are also happy to tell you about the annual seminars held in 16 cities around Oregon with both English and Spanish. You might also seek out the services of a safety consultant like Kirk Lloyd of Risk Management Resources, who helps farms create safety plans, run meetings, and respond to accidents when they do happen. In partnership with Oregon Aglink, he also contributes to a growing video library on safety topics.

For others, safety means some extra steps that are worth the effort. There’s Jake Barge at Papé Machinery, whose company does more than sell you machinery—it helps keep you safe on the road with a sign and bumper sticker campaign encouraging other drivers to be cautious. Aglink member Brenda Frketich and others like her are participating in an OSHA-approved pilot program of local “pods” where farmers work together to operate at their safest and most efficient.

And of course there are the people at the center of it all who rely on farm safety: you, your employees, and all the family members who hope to see you and your workers get home at the end of each day.

Balancing Lives and Livelihoods

“Ag isn’t sustainable without a healthy workforce of farm families and their employees” says Lloyd, but beyond the financial bottom line, “getting people home in one piece every night is the most important thing to me.”

In farming, where paperwork can seem to pile up endlessly, it can be hard to reconcile the regulations with the flesh and blood people they’re supposed to protect on an everyday basis. Lloyd is there to help bridge that gap. He admits that “safety and compliance have become very different things,” so while meeting expectations on a checklist might save you on fines, it’s only part of a bigger safety strategy.

“Many of the biggest safety challenges we face in agriculture are not regulated at all, or the rules don’t fully address the problem, so I also put a lot of effort into teaching employers, managers, and workers about these gaps and developing “best practices” to minimize the risk of injury.”

Regular safety meetings and certifications for workers have to compete with busy farms and packed schedules. That’s where Aglink projects like short safety videos, available in both English and Spanish, make material more accessible for farm teams. After OSHA made the first video possible with a grant, a partnership with SAIF and Kirk Lloyd has produced an additional three available on YouTube and DVD. Along with the annual seminars put on by SAIF around the state, these videos are a way to spark important thinking and conversations around the farm.

After all, good safety practices like using the right equipment and taking time for checks have to compete with the alluring numbers of efficiency: high output with the least time and energy spent. Additionally, a lot of farming involves monotonous and large-scale work that can create a false sense of security. However, Chuck Easterly, Loss Control Manager at SAIF, says it best: “When safety cultures are strong, workers are protected and operations are performed effectively [and] efficiently.”

And what is a strong “safety culture”? Watching out for one’s own actions and looking out for each other’s well-being on top of that. Not risking your own life or someone else’s, especially when some lives are endangered as workers on the farm may try to help each other in an emergency situation and the tragedy only compounds. Safety culture is all about the big-picture “why” of safety and not just the “what” of individual regulations and minimum compliance to avoid fines or legal expenses.

Innovating at the Local Level

 In 2014, to help small and mid-sized farms achieve these broader safety goals, Aglink executive director Geoff Horning worked with Lloyd and a safety committee of member farms to create an innovative new program. With OSHA’s approval, local “pods” of farms diverge from the typical schedule of a monthly safety meeting on their own farm to a quarterly schedule where farms work together to achieve that strong safety culture.

Since the pilot year, two pods have emerged, one with three farms and the other with five. Each quarter, a farm will have at least one safety meeting with as many of its own staff and workers as available. The other two meetings that quarter, which under typical OSHA practice would include only that farm, are replaced by one “pod” meeting, where members of the owner and labor management teams from each farm meet to talk about their recent and upcoming safety concerns, and a safety inspection carried out by a representative from Risk Management Resources and one or more Aglink staff members. Behind the scenes, Aglink takes care of all the meeting minutes, inspection notes, and other paperwork involved in the program.

Brenda Frketich, an Aglink member participating in the program, sees her local “pod” as an important part of the safety routine at Kirsch Family Farm. “Having safety as an on-going conversation in the culture of your farming business does a lot to remind people [of how to protect themselves] from the big risks,” she says, like driving defensively on the road or using earplugs with a chainsaw, but it also “brings up situational reminders throughout the year. Sometimes when you are only doing a job one time in a number of years it is easy to forget the best way to go about being safe on the job.” Where one small farm might not be thinking about that task this season, another member of their pod might have it on the top of their to-do list. As a pod, they work through those risks and strategies.

According to Kirk Lloyd, the pod program “introduces a power dynamic of farmer-to-farmer support, encouragement, and accountability.” When it operates alongside the top-down administration of OSHA, it represents some of the best of the cooperative and practical aspects of agriculture in Oregon.

Aglink hopes to expand the program over time with more staff and funding, especially since the regional model would serve the needs of producers across the state. In the meantime, however, executive Geoff Horning is proud of the programs and partnerships that continue to thrive and serve the safety needs of the farming and ranching community in Oregon.

“Providing safety resources for our members may not be the core part of our mission,” says Horning. “But at the end of the day none of it matters if we don’t do everything we can to make sure our members and their employees go home safely to their families every night.”

Aglink would like to thank the different organizations and individuals who contributed to this article. For more information about these programs, check aglink.org or contact our staff at info@aglink.org.