Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Farmers are not immune from unpredicted emergencies and disasters. As in any workplace, agricultural emergencies and disasters can be either natural or man-made. Natural disasters include tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, severe dust or winter storms, lightning and earthquakes. Man-made disasters include chemical releases or spills, vehicle incidents, accidental poisoning, workplace violence and equipment incidents.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the U.S. Department of Labor recommends that farm supervisors and workers should develop an emergency action plan (EAP) to lessen the impact of emergencies and disasters,” Dr. Henry English, director of the Small Farm Program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said.
An EAP prepares workers and supervisors for unexpected agricultural emergencies and disasters. This 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 for everyone to understand and useful for any situation.
The plan may cover designated departures; accountability of all workers; emergency escape procedures and routes; duties of workers designated to perform medical and rescue functions; needed supplies such as gas-powered generators and fire extinguishers; and next-of-kin contact information.
“A written EAP is best, but very small operations may get by with an oral one,” Dr. English said.
New workers and current employees should be trained on the plan periodically or when a new procedure is created. OSHA suggests workers should know evacuation plans, alarm systems, shutdown procedures, reporting procedures and the types of potential emergencies.
First responders should be included in an emergency action plan. They should be familiar with your plan and know your farm’s layout, location of utility turnoffs, where hazardous chemicals are kept, evacuation plans, safe places where employees would be found, and important daytime and nighttime contact information, Dr. English said.
Farm drills should be part of any emergency plan and should be conducted regularly or as needed. After each drill or emergency incident, conduct a review to evaluate and identify areas for improvement. Knowing what to do in an emergency prevents panic, OSHA reports.
One person in the workplace should be certified to perform first aid. Keep basic first-aid supplies on hand and post emergency phone numbers where they are easily visible, inside farm vehicles and on telephones.
A well-trained and disciplined emergency response team is the farm’s most valuable asset during the first few minutes of an emergency. Team members should know when to take actions themselves or to wait on outside assistance if the disaster is too large to handle.
Team members should be trained in first aid, shutdown procedures, chemical spill control, emergency rescue, and use of fire extinguishers. Alert contractors of the hazards in the work they are to perform.
Remember, workers have the right to safe working conditions; information and training about workplace hazards, prevention techniques and OSHA standards; or to file a complaint asking for 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 should file a complaint with OSHA within 30 days of the alleged reprisal.
Dr. English and OSHA agree that an emergency preparedness plan helps make the work environment safer 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, U.S. Department of Labor.