by Sally Colby
It’s almost time for spring planting, and many farmers will be spending extra time in the farm shop before heading out to the fields. Whether shop time means routine maintenance or repairs to major equipment, make sure safety is the priority.
It’s easy to rush through a job when the weather is just right and time is running out, but short cuts often result in accidents. Start the season by making sure the farm shop is in order, with everything in its place and operating properly. Check electrical cords carefully for holes and excessive wear. Wrap or coil electrical cords so that they don’t become damaged or create a fall hazard. Shops should be equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (CFCI) and arc fault interrupters (AFI) to prevent shock hazards.
Newer buildings that have been constructed for the sole purpose of serving as a farm shop are usually well-lit, but older buildings that have been converted to serve as a shop sometimes have poor lighting. Dim light and shadows create a safety hazard, especially if the operator is tired. Make sure that the shop is well-ventilated, especially during activities such as painting, fluid handling and welding.
Older shops, such as those that have been converted from a corn crib or other farm outbuilding, often have a dirt floor that is harder to maintain than concrete. No matter what the surface, keep floors as clean as possible; free from litter, cords, equipment and tools that aren’t in use. Clean up spills as soon as they occur, and make sure slippery surfaces are demarcated until they are no longer hazardous. There should be some means of temperature control for the shop — people who are uncomfortable due to excess heat or cold cannot perform routine tasks safely.
Clothing for the farm shop should be loose enough to allow free movement of arms and legs, but not so loose that it creates a hazard. Drawstrings, tears in clothing and long hair can be distracting, but worse, can cause entanglement. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the farm shop includes gloves that fit each user properly and are suited for the task. Leather gloves should be free of holes and allow enough dexterity for safe movement. Gloves worn for handling chemicals should be the right weight for the material being handled. Check to make sure that PPE such as safety glasses, ear protection, respirators and welding shields fit the user properly, are in good condition and free of excessive wear. The ideal footwear for the farm shop is steel-toed boots.
The farm shop should include at least one fully-charged fire extinguisher that is accessible within 30 feet of any area. The fire extinguisher should be mounted properly and easy to access. Large shops might require additional fire extinguishers so that a unit is always accessible from within 30 feet.
A first aid kit stocked with items to handle minor wounds should be stored in an area where all shop users can locate it easily. Essential telephone numbers, including emergency services such as the fire department, ambulance, police and poison control should be clearly written and mounted on an unobstructed wall. Make sure that all shop users are familiar with the farm’s policy on handling emergencies. If the farm doesn’t have an emergency policy, now is a good time to write one and make sure everyone understands it.
Visitors, even if they’re family members, can be a source of distraction and should be discouraged when work is going on in the farm shop. Children and pets should not be permitted in the shop.
Everyone working in the shop should be familiar with how to safely use small tools and large equipment such as lifts and air compressors. If you’re unsure of someone’s ability to use a piece of equipment, provide training to ensure safe operation.
As repairs are completed, resist the temptation to wait until later to clean up. If time is short and you must return to the field immediately, take at least a few minutes to straighten up the area and commit to a complete clean up as soon as possible.