Ask two ag insurance specialists what they'd like to see in custom operators' safety programs, and you might be surprised at the answers.
Rather than focusing on broad, sweeping changes in company safety policies and programs, Larry Minner and Dave Anderson say most operators could benefit — both in terms of an improved safety record and lower insurance premiums — by making just a few simple adjustments.
Minner, of Custom Harvest Insurance, Ltd., in Hutchinson, KS, says setting up an observation program for new employees who will be operating large equipment is something he'd definitely like to see more clients doing.
“A lot of times, you just assume that people know what they're doing when it comes to safely handling equipment,” says Minner. “But often, that's not the case. Sometimes, people who come to you after working for somebody else for several years are the worst. They've picked up a lot of bad habits.”
He advises holding several “hands-on” training sessions before the harvest season starts.
“Have a couple of dry runs in a non-field or non-road environment,” he suggests. “Hop up in the cab with the employee and observe what he's doing right and wrong. Then explain exactly how you want things done. Then, about six weeks later, make it a point to go back and observe him again to see if he's corrected the poor behaviors or if any bad habits have redeveloped.”
Fitting all vehicles and equipment with flashing lights is another measure Minner would like to see more of his custom-operator clients implement.
“It's always amazing, even startling, to me that other people driving on the road just can't seem to see a huge forage chopper or a large semi truck moving down the road ahead of them or coming at them in the oncoming traffic lane,” he says.
Flashing lights serve as a beacon that draws a little more attention to equipment, says Minner.
“People see the lights and their brains kind of kick into gear telling them there's a reason to be a little more cautious. It's an added expense. But, considering what's at stake, it's well worth it.”
Falling into the same category: buying plastic cones and/or slow-moving-vehicle signs that can be placed in the roadway to warn other drivers that large trucks and other equipment will be swinging wide into the other traffic lane when making a right-hand turn into a driveway or narrow lane.
“It's one of the biggest safety problems we have right now,” he says. “People have tried all kinds of things, including front-mounted mirrors, but the signs seem to be the most effective in preventing accidents.”
Minner adds that, in many areas of the country, county road departments have an excess inventory of signs that the public can purchase. Cost is typically in the $12-15/sign range.
Making employees responsible for keeping pop cans, paper bags and other trash out of the cabs on equipment and trucks can also shore up a safety program, says Minner. “Those things can easily get underfoot. That can easily distract a driver and lead to an accident.”
Anderson, of Vincent, Urban, Walker and Associates in Green Bay, WI, believes something as simple as requiring employees to thoroughly clean up all equipment at the end of the day would greatly increase overall safety awareness and performance.
“If employees have to walk around each piece of equipment with the power washer or an air hose every day, they're going to get a lot more familiar with that equipment,” says Anderson.
“They're going to start looking for things that aren't working just right — maybe a problem in one of the hydraulic lines or a coupler that isn't hooked up just right. They start making the connection that these things could become a problem the next time they're on the road or out in the field with that equipment. They're more likely to bring the problem to somebody's attention so that it gets fixed.”
Eventually, says Anderson, employees start taking more ownership of keeping the equipment in top-notch condition.
“It's a lot more effective than simply standing in front of the group at a safety meeting and telling them what your safety procedures are,” he says.
Anderson also recommends turning over responsibilities for running regularly scheduled safety meetings to individual employees.
“If they have to run the meeting, it gets them thinking more about the importance of safety,” he says. “It also offers a fresh perspective for the other employees. It's not just the boss standing up there saying the same things he said the week before. It also helps create more of a team atmosphere.”
Be sure to let your insurance agent know that you're implementing these kinds of measures, Anderson says.
“If you're doing something above and beyond the basic requirements, the agent should be able to go to the insurance company and negotiate a better premium for you. Everything in the insurance business is negotiable.”