Training New Agricultural Workers
If you’ve hired new help or seasonal workers, you probably want them out in the field as quickly as possible. However, before you let new employees begin work, you need to consider their training. Statistics indicate that youth aged 15 to 29 make up a significant portion of seasonal farm workers and many will be doing agricultural work for the first time. Maybe you’ve hired someone with farm experience, but what does the worker know about your equipment and farming practices? Whatever their background, they are your staff now and it’s up to you to provide them with training to ensure their safety on the job. All new employees need proper job orientation and training before they get to work.
Whether you are the farm manager or a supervisor, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone working for you has the knowledge and skills to prevent injuries and fatalities on the job. Sometimes your objective is to manage hazards, other times you can simply avoid them altogether. There are three things your workers need to learn to work safely:
- Know the job
- Know the hazard
- Know correct procedures to work safely
To keep workers aware of the need to work safely, train them using the three steps above. Step one requires you to provide proper training to your workers ahead of time for each new task they perform. In the second step, you ensure that your workers are able to recognize hazards. When workers have the skills to perform the job, they also need to know the hazards they could face and be continually alert for them throughout their workday. Step three requires you to train workers to handle hazards once they are recognized. Workers need to understand your procedures to handle hazardous situations appropriately.
Training — Who Needs It?
In the past, farming was a family affair. However, farming operations have become larger and it may no longer be possible to keep it all in the family. Many farming operations have come to rely on seasonal and inexperienced labor. In addition, farming has become more complex and has taken advantage of technological advancements in farm machinery and production processes. Every year, hundreds of new employees receive serious injuries that result in lost production. Most of these injuries happen because of a lack of knowledge. Never assume your workers know what is expected of them – give them the training they need before they start the job.
Here are some tips to help you train new workers effectively:
- Explain techniques that will make a task easier.
- Provide comprehensive training for complex tasks such as equipment operation.
- Specify dos and don’ts of safe machine operation.
- Ensure appropriate warning decals are in place and read by all workers.
- Once training is complete, monitor job performance to ensure your workers fully understand the job and are following all safety precautions.
- Provide information about equipment maintenance requirements and any required personal protective equipment.
To help new workers learn to recognize hazards:
- Before they begin work, tell them about specific hazards and how to avoid them – such as the hazards of working in the heat, with livestock, tractors, farm implements, and other equipment.
- Include safety information in the job description, during the hiring process, orientation and training; make safety a part of performance reviews, compensation and disciplinary actions.
- Explain the risks of exposure to dust, noise, chemicals and toxic materials, and how to prevent related incidents or injuries.
- Ensure all employees wear suitable clothing for the environment.
- Maintain adequate supplies of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and insist on workers using it.
- Lead by example. Use safe practices in your work to show your workers how you expect them to perform.
- Show staff through your own work style that shortcuts on safety are unacceptable.
- Make safety a daily priority by talking about it on an ongoing basis.
Once you’ve trained your workers to operate the equipment and recognize hazards, you need to make sure they can apply their knowledge to prevent incidents, avoid injuries, and ensure everything runs smoothly. When workers know the appropriate procedures for the work they do, they know how to manage or avoid the hazards of farm work. Consider the following points:
- Discuss various farm hazards that come up in your work and what can be done to avoid or manage them.
- Prevent back injuries by ensuring new employees understand correct lifting techniques, and keep an eye on staff on the job to ensure they are lifting properly.
- Encourage workers to report unsafe conditions and equipment. Their timely action can save you money and reduce the potential for injuries.
- Provide direction ahead of time on handling emergency situations.
- Make sure that all workers and family members know how to contact emergency services and ensure that some staff and family members have first-aid training.
- Teach employees how to use fire extinguishers. In the hands of a trained employee, a small fire extinguisher could be the difference between a minor brush fire and the loss of your livelihood.
Farm workers perform many different tasks daily. Help them take time to get to know the hazards of each job before they begin. Properly training workers can result in less worker frustration, greater morale, higher productivity and a safer workplace. As a farm manager or supervisor, you can shape your new workers’ attitudes toward safety by setting an example. When you take on the responsibility for you and your workers’ safety, you send a clear message that safety is everyone’s job.