An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the
saying goes. In the case of one farm
owner, this missed ounce of prevention may cost millions of dollars.
An Alabama jury recommends awarding $4 million to a farm
worker who sustained horrific mutilation from operating farm equipment.
The jury decided that the worker’s employer, a Conecuh
County farmer, should pay the sum for failing to provide the employee adequate
warning or training to operate a tractor-driven post-hole digger. The worker was injured while operating the
digger to fence approximately 40 acres, according to an article posted Jan. 22
Four Critical Mistakes
At Auburn University, Dr. Jesse LaPrade, the Alabama
Cooperative Extension System’s farm safety specialist, says the ruling stemmed from
what was perceived as four mistakes on the part of the farmer. These include not providing the employee with
safety instructions; not providing safe equipment; not providing a user’s
manual for the equipment by which the employee was injured; and, finally,
providing instructions for operating the equipment that ran contrary to the
“If the farmer had merely followed these four basic
safeguards, he never would have ended up in court, nor would the worker likely have
been injured” LaPrade says.
“The farm owner did not call the phone number, clearly
inscribed on the digging equipment, to request a copy of the operating manual,”
he says, adding that attorneys subsequently involved in the lawsuit called the number, requested a copy
of the manual from the manufacturer and received one a few days later.
“If the employee had been provided this manual and then
requested to sign a form attesting that he had been informed of this fact, it’s
likely that the farm owner may have avoided court,” LaPrade says.
Familiarity with OSHA Regs a Top Priority
One of the main priorities of famers should be familiarizing
themselves with Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements that
relate to employees and to comply with them,” LaPrade stresses.
LaPrade has developed a site with the sole purpose of
acquainting farm owners with their responsibilities under OSHA.
“The farm safety management plan puts OSHA law into action,”
The site, which can be accessed at www.aces.edu/farmsafety, outlines the
OSHA regulations that apply to farmers and also how to comply with these
“The site provides a check list to help producers’ identity
the sites and equipment on their farm that potentially carry the most injury
risk and that should form the bases for training as part of a comprehensive farm
safety management plan,” LaPrade says.
Identifying All Potential Risks on the Farm
He says all identified safety risks must be corrected according
to the specifications outlined in the farm safety management plan forms posted
on his website.
Once a farm safety management plan is completed, farm owners
and operators are required to keep all related forms on file, including copies
of worker training verification forms and self-site safety inspections, which should
be conducted at least twice annually, he says.
Likewise, any serious injuries that occur on the farm should
be carefully documented, including steps outlining how they could have been
prevented. Under OSHA regulations, any injury that requires medical assistance
and at least one lost day of work ranks as a serious injury and should be
documented and permanently filed, according to LaPrade.
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