9 Farm Shop Safety Tips

A shop is the hub of the farm, but it's a potential safety and health hot spot. Creating a safe and healthy work space is a critical risk-management strategy.

“There always are hazards where tools are used, and we see a lot of injuries in shops,” says LaMar Grafft, Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety (I-CASH) health and safety specialist. (Note: Grafft has since become Associate Director at North Carolina Agromedicine Institute.) “Occasionally when there's a fatality, more often than not, it happens when a piece of equipment has been raised and inadequately blocked.”

Grafft is a reviewer for the Certified Safe Farm program, a voluntary agricultural health, safety, and wellness program created in 1996 by I-CASH. He says shop trouble spots can be reduced with a focus on nine steps.

1. Prevent falls. Good housekeeping is fundamental. That means sweeping walkways and work areas, and cleaning up grease, gasoline, and water spills. “A lot of trips and falls are caused by clutter, especially extension cords,” Grafft says.

2. Improve lighting. For general office and shop work, aim for 50 foot-candles of illumination. For detailed bench work or specific office desk work, use 100 foot-candles. For general machinery storage, 3 to 5 foot-candles is adequate.

3. Use hoists, cranes, and lifts. Over half of back injuries occur from lifting. Hydraulic lifts and hoists can help to reduce these injuries.

“We've seen more hoists during the last 10 years,” Grafft says. “They use a standard drive over with a swiveling part below the truck, or a ramp. Some have a crane with a chain hoist. An I-beam can reach across the shop, equipped with a trolley to move items, and a chain to lower and raise them.”

Hoists are safer than skid steers with front-end loader chains. “There's the risk of the chain slipping,” Grafft says. “It's not designed for that.”

4. Wear protective equipment. Personal protective equipment should be used from head to toe, starting with shoes or boots with a heavy tread.

“We recommend a good set of earmuffs in the shop,” Grafft says. “They're easy and quick to put on and take off.”

Respirators filter dust, paint fumes, gases, or other hazardous material. Use NIOSH-approved filtering face pieces: N95, N100, or P100.

Leather gloves, chemical-resistant gloves, hard hats, protective aprons, and welding shields are vital. Goggles with side shields protect against chemical splashes, dust, fumes, and debris from bench grinders. Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator that fits under a welding hood, such as a 3M Particulate 8233 or a Moldex 2400 N95 or 2800 N95.

5. Prevent electrical injury. Make sure that electrical equipment is properly grounded. “We frequently see wiring without a ground fault circuit interrupter,” Grafft says. “If an electrical tool isn't double insulated, there must be a third prong for grounding.”

Driving over extension cords creates shorts. “Frayed cords are a shock hazard,” he says. “You shouldn't use less than 12-gauge cords. The heavier ones cost more, but they'll power every piece of equipment and pose less risk of motor damage. Heavier-gauge cord won't overheat or be a fire hazard.”

He says most farms don't have conduits for wiring, so electrical wires are exposed. “Sometimes you take things outside to work on, and shocks are a hazard if it's damp,” he says.

6. Prevent fires. Flammable and combustible materials should be stored away from heat sources, and flammable liquids should be kept in covered containers. “Fire extinguishers should be hung by the shop door,” Grafft says. “We recommend a 20-pound ABC extinguisher for shops.” Check your extinguishers annually.

7. Improve ventilation. Ventilation is vital in a heated shop. Engineering controls are the best way to remove air contaminants, with a ventilation system that includes hoods, roof vents, and high-speed intake and exhaust fans.

An exhaust fan must move 1,000 to 2,000 cubic feet of air per minute to completely remove welding fumes. For engine fumes, fans must be capable of moving 250 cubic feet per minute per vehicle. “Welding or cutting needs to be done in an area with exhaust fans to take fumes up and out,” Grafft says. “You'll know it's designed correctly if the fumes draw down and away from your face when you're welding.”

8. Safeguard storage loft. A railing and stairs help prevent falls. “I see a lot of overhead lofts without good access or railings,” Grafft says.

9. Use bulk lubricant storage. Avoid skin contact with oil and solvents. Complete containment eliminates spills and slick spots on the shop floor. Oil should flow from the bulk container through a hose and past valves in a three-way valve junction.

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