Farmers are not immune to emergencies and unforeseen disasters. As in any workplace, agricultural emergencies and disasters can be natural or man-made.
Natural disasters include tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, floods, severe dust or winter storms, lightning, and earthquakes.
Man-made disasters include chemical releases or spills, vehicle incidents, accidental poisonings, workplace violence and equipment incidents.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the US Department of Labor recommends that supervisors and agricultural workers develop an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to reduce the impact of emergencies and disasters,” said Henry English, Ph.D, director of the Small Farm program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
An EAP prepares workers and supervisors for unexpected agricultural emergencies and disasters. It reduces confusion and panic for everyone. The EAP should identify what to do before, during and after an emergency. The plan should be simple enough that everyone understands it and is useful in all situations.
The plan can cover designated departures; responsibility of all workers; emergency evacuation procedures and routes; duties of workers designated to perform medical and rescue functions; necessary supplies such as gasoline generators and fire extinguishers; and the contact details of the next of kin.
“A written EAP is best, but very small transactions can be done with an oral EAP,” English said.
New workers and current employees should be trained on the plan periodically or when a new procedure is created. OSHA suggests that workers know about evacuation plans, alarm systems, shutdown procedures, reporting procedures, and types of potential emergencies.
First responders should be included in an emergency action plan. They should be familiar with the farm plan and know the layout of the farm, the location of utility exits, where hazardous chemicals are kept, evacuation plans, safe areas for employees to be. and important day and night contact information, English said.
Farm drills should be part of any contingency plan and should be performed regularly or as needed. After each exercise or emergency incident, perform a review to assess and identify areas for improvement. Knowing what to do in an emergency prevents panic, reports OSHA.
A person in the workplace must be certified to perform first aid. Keep basic first aid supplies on hand and post emergency phone numbers where they can be easily seen – inside farm vehicles and on phones.
A well-trained and disciplined emergency response team is the farm’s most valuable asset during the first minutes of an emergency. Team members need to know when to take action on their own or expect outside help if the disaster is too large to handle.
Team members should be trained in first aid, shutdown procedures, chemical spill control, emergency rescue and the use of fire extinguishers. Alert contractors to the dangers of the work they have to perform.
Remember that workers have the right to safe working conditions; information and training on workplace hazards, prevention techniques and OSHA standards; or to file a complaint requesting an OSHA inspection. Remember that workers can exercise their rights under the law without retaliation. If a worker has been punished or discriminated against for their rights, they must file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged retaliation.
English and OSHA agree that an emergency preparedness plan helps make the work environment a safer place for everyone. For more information, visit www.osha.gov or call (800) 321-OSHA (6742).
Source: OSHA Agricultural Safety Fact Sheet, Emergency Preparedness for Farmworkers, US Department of Labor.
Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its extension and research programs and services without discrimination.
– Carol Sanders is a retired writer / editor from the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities at UAPB.