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Re-evaluate risks on the farm

Cheryl DeCooman for Progressive Dairy Published on 01 February 2020

What is risk perception? It is what you believe can go wrong in any given situation and how bad you think the outcome will be. We use our perception of the risks associated with any task to determine how we are going to perform the task and what precautions we are going to take.

Think about this example: Avery grew up on a dairy farm. Avery and Riley met while away at school. Avery brought Riley back to the farm and put him to work. The first time Riley helped birth a calf, he was very cautious; he wore overalls, steel-toe rubber boots and obstetric gloves. He was completely protected and stayed alert to what could go wrong. Avery and Riley now have their own dairy operation; however, when Riley helps with a calf birthing, he no longer wears gloves, coveralls or any other protective equipment. It is something he has done so many times before he is confident he is not at risk of injury or illness.

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What has changed between the first time Riley assisted in a calf birth and now? The risks and hazards associated with birthing have not changed; however, Riley’s perceptions of those risks have changed.

Just like Riley, our perceptions of risk change as we experience things over time. As we do things over and over again, and nothing wrong or bad happens, we perceive tasks as less risky or dangerous in comparison to when we started.

Based on this understanding, how can you improve safety in your workplace?

1. Step back, think about what could go wrong and how bad could the outcome be.

When assisting in a calf birthing, there are many things that could go wrong. It is important to be aware of all the risks and hazards. A kicking animal could injure itself or you. This could result in a broken bone, and you would not be able to work for a few weeks, causing financial distress.

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2. Think about how you would explain the process to someone who has never done the job before.

As with any job or task done on the farm, there should be policies and procedures written. This ensures everyone working knows how to do a job the same way. Additionally, these policies and procedures act as a guide when training new team members. It is also a good way to ensure consistency and safety in all jobs on the farm.

3. Try to apply those ideas to the tasks you do every day.

Whether a formal procedure has been done or not, it is important to think through each step of the job or task before you begin. This way you can consider the hazards and take precautionary steps to eliminate or reduce the potential harm.

It is normal to perceive farm tasks as normal, safe and easy. I am not saying you need to drop everything you are doing and write a million policies and procedures on how to do each individual task right away. Start small by considering the hazards associated with each task on a daily basis and write them down. Once a week, take 20 minutes to sit and write out how to do a task properly and consider the hazards while you are doing this, and how you can minimize or eliminate risks. In the long run, this can not only create a safer farm but also potentially save someone’s limb or life.  end mark

Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or on Twitter and Instagram.

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