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Farm Shop Safety: Don’t Overlook Hazards

By UNMC, Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, Omaha, NE

Each farm shop is unique in size and design. One thing all farm shops have in common are the everyday hazards found in housekeeping, chemical storage, and obstacles that can cause slips, trips and falls.

Dennis Murphy, Professor Emeritus at the Penn State University Agricultural Safety and Health Program, says hazards often differ according to shop size. 

“Many smaller shops don’t have the kind of organizing and storage resources found in larger shops,” Murphy says. “When there’s less room in walking aisles, there’s greater risk of tripping over things like electrical cords. It’s also common to see more extension cords in smaller shops where electrical outlets are limited.”

Many times, small farm shops are housed in aging buildings where electrical wiring may have deteriorated or is no longer adequate for electrical needs. Wiring may have also been installed by someone lacking some important electrical wiring experience. 

In a setting like this, electrical shocks are more likely to occur and potential for an electrical fire is greater.

“Many small farm shops don’t have a fire extinguisher,” Murphy says. “That’s a critical piece of equipment if a fire occurs.” 

Air tank hoses often lie on the floor of smaller farm shops. Their presence greatly increases the chances that someone will trip and fall. Lighting is often insufficient and dim, multiplying the risk of many other hazards.

“A large farm shop may have all these same issues,” Murphy says. “However, larger shops tend to be built more recently and have better wiring and lighting, greatly reducing a number of hazards.”

While some standard hazards pose a lower risk in a newer and larger farm shop, the expanded space allows for activities such as arc welding that can pose additional risks.

“Larger shops can accommodate more people, which means several activities can occur at the same time,” Murphy says. “That means greater opportunity for someone to be injured by work activity going on next to them.”

Large shops often have overhead storage and include a loft. A loft requires an adequate stair with a handrail as well as guard rails. If these items haven’t been addressed there is great risk of personal injury.”

Space heaters are often used in large farm shops. If they are too close to combustible material – boxes, bags, rags – while they’re in use, they can easily ignite a fire. 

“Using a space heater too close to wood frame shelving could result in a fire,” Murphy says. 

When shop doors are closed and engines are running inside the shop, carbon monoxide fumes pose a serious threat to anyone in the shop. Equipment noise, especially noise from multiple pieces of machinery, can also cause hearing damage.

Regularly completing a safety checklist in the farm shop can help identify safety issues related to electricity, lighting, unsafe storage, etc. Establishing a time for the inspection can help ensure it’s completed.

“The most opportune time is generally in winter months,” Murphy says. “If it isn’t completed then, it could be set up as a task to take care of during a rainy day in spring or before harvest. Depending on the condition of the shop, it may require more than one day to look for and correct the safety issues.”

Some questions to review during an inspection:

Are electrical cords undamaged?

Is an appropriate fire extinguisher present and operable?

Is a fully supplied first aid kit available?

Are guards and shields in place on all equipment.

Are walkways clear of debris?

Are chemicals stored in a locked cabinet?

Since good housekeeping contributes to safely working in the shop, consider these organizing tips:

Organize the workshop so everything has a designated place. Make sure items are secure so they won’t fall on anyone.

Avoid storing items close to walkways.

Keep all guards and shields in place on power equipment.

Use hand tools only for their intended purpose.

Equip the shop with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters to help prevent electrical shock.

Make sure the shop is well lit.

If the shop is heated, ensure it is properly vented and flammable liquids are kept out of the shop area.

Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when performing repair jobs. That PPE includes: leather gloves, chemical-resistant gloves, safety glasses, face shields, earplugs or muffs, steel-toed boots, respirators, hard hats, protective aprons and welding shields.

Depending on how remotely the shop is located, it may be helpful to post clear directions to the shop so emergency responders can arrive as quickly as possible when necessary. 

“You could include contact information for neighbors who might help while waiting for emergency responders,” Murphy says. “Since many people aren’t good at reading directions that include north, south, east, west, it’s better to use left and right. Only use landmarks that can be seen at night or when snow is covering the ground.” 

Murphy notes that evaluating the safety of a farm shop is a good management strategy.

“You should evaluate the shop at least once per month,” he says. “Twice a month is better. The more you use your shop the more important it is to make sure you’re working in a safe environment.”

Funding for this educational article comes from the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.