Production agriculture consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous of all American industries. A recent National Safety Council study ranks beef cattle farms and dairy operations as second and third respectively among all agricultural enterprises in the number of injuries per hour of work. Animals are involved in 17 percent of all farm injuries, equivalent to the number of accidents involving farm machinery.
Animal characteristics and typical animal environments in combination result in a high potential for accidents when a wrong combination of events occurs. Farmers and farm workers must always be on guard when working with or around animals.
"Good housekeeping" practices and respect for animals play major roles in reducing hazards and risks to both humans and animals. Clutter, messes, and disrepair often set the stage for accidents and contribute to the seriousness of many injuries.
Where production and handling of animals is a day-to-day occurrence, safety must be an ongoing consideration and a primary concern. Taking simple precautions may take a few extra seconds, but removing or reducing hazards can save time, pain and suffering, property, resources and lives.
WORKING WITH ANIMALS AND THEIR CHARACTERISTICS
A better understanding of animals is gained by observing their structure, learning their composition, and contemplating the effects of the differences between them and humans.
For example, human eyes are positioned approximately 2.5 inches apart on the front of the head. Most farm animals have their eyes located more to the side rather than to the front of their heads. Humans are adapted for "telephoto" vision capabilities whereas most animals have superior "wide-angle" vision. As a result of eye positioning and spacing, humans have superior ability to judge distances and to see in 3-D (three dimensions--seeing height, width, and depth).
Animals, with their wide-angle vision, have a reduced ability to perceive depth and to judge distances.
Cattle and horses have panoramic vision, which means they can see everything except something that is directly behind them, giving them a viewing range of 270 degrees while humans have a range of about 180 degrees. Sudden movements behind cattle will "spook" them because they can see a quick movement but cannot distinguish how close the perceived "threat" is nor can they determine the seriousness of the movement. In response to sudden movements, fear may develop in the animal's mind sufficient to trigger a "flight" or "fight" response.
While most animals are colorblind, their hearing is extremely sensitive relative to humans, especially to higher frequency sounds.
Knowing these characteristics of animal vision and hearing, we can understand why animals are usually skittish and/or balky in unfamiliar surroundings.
Experienced animal handlers should recognize that animals perform and or produce best when their lives are as tranquil and their environment is as comfortable as reasonably possible. Avoid extremes in temperature, humidity, lighting, and other environmental conditions such as loud noises, rapid motions, excitement, and harsh treatment. Not only do tranquil animals produce and perform better, they are more predictable than their "high-strung" counterparts.
Animals with histories of traumatic exposures are more likely to overreact to changing surroundings or when confronted with unfamiliar circumstances. Be extra cautious when animals are being medically treated or examined, loaded, moved, or during other handling operations.
People who work with animals recognize the ability of animals to communicate despite an inability to speak. Most species have and display characteristic signs of fear, aggression, and contentment. Astute handlers are sensitive to warnings evidenced by:
Specific handling methods, like warning signs, vary with species. However, some general handling rules for all animals include the following:
Older facilities usually do not include many of the efficiencies, conveniences, low maintenance, and safety features designed and built into more modern livestock facilities.
Additional problems may occur when old buildings have been altered to function in ways that were not included in the design of the original structures.
Hazards that may exist in older structures or structures that have been altered are discussed below.
ANIMAL HEALTH AND HYGIENE
All feed materials should be checked carefully before being fed to animals. Feed-borne molds can cause severe respiratory and digestive disorders to the herd and even to human handlers. On-farm feed mills and storage facilities can be effective in attaining quality control, but they also require careful management. Purchase feed only from dealers and merchants known to be reliable. Any suspect feed materials should be tested.
CONFINED SPACE HAZARDS IN LIVESTOCK CONFINEMENT AREAS
Agitation of the contents of manure pits causes the release of great quantities of heavier-than-air gases that are sufficient to displace oxygen-containing air in an adjacent confinement building. Unless adequate ventilation is provided, conditions potentially fatal to humans and animals can develop very quickly.
Properly designed buildings with adequate ventilation will prevent the accumulation of toxic gases under normal operating conditions.
Additional precautions may be necessary whenever contents of manure pits are being agitated or when manure pits are entered for maintenance.
Dusts are common in livestock operations and present a hazard to animals and humans. All dust represents potential health problems, but some dusts may cause permanent health damage, permanent disability and/or death.
Use and store only dry grain and dry, well-cured forage. Animal areas should be kept as clean and dust-free as possible. Stale dust and feed accumulations attract and absorb moisture (from humid barn air), creating a perfect environment for mold and other microorganisms.
People can wear a dust mask when exposed to dusty conditions; animals cannot. Whenever possible, move animals outdoors or to other areas when "housekeeping" chores are in process. Provide adequate ventilation whenever movement of animals is not possible or practical.
Michigan State University,
Agricultural Engineering Department.
Robert Wilkinson, Anthony Tilma, Agricultural Engineer and former Graduate research assistant respectively, Michigan State University Extension, East Lansing, Michigan 48824. 5/92. Funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health - #UO5/CC-4506052-01.
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