An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.  In the case of one farm owner, the missed prevention could cost millions of dollars. An Alabama jury recommends awarding $4 million to a farm worker who sustained horrific mutilation from operating farm equipment.

The jury decided that the worker’s employer, a Conecuh County farmer, should pay the sum for failing to provide the employee adequate warning or training to operate a tractor-driven post-hole digger. The worker was injured while operating the digger to fence approximately 40 acres, according to an article posted Jan. 22 at al.com.

At Auburn University, Jesse LaPrade, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s farm safety specialist, says the ruling stemmed from what was perceived as four mistakes on the part of the farmer. These include not providing the employee with safety instructions; not providing safe equipment; not providing a user’s manual for the equipment by which the employee was injured; and, finally, providing instructions for operating the equipment that ran contrary to the manual instructions.

“If the farmer had merely followed these four basic safeguards, he never would have ended up in court, nor would the worker likely have been injured” LaPrade says.

“The farm owner did not call the phone number, clearly inscribed on the digging equipment, to request a copy of the operating manual,” he says, adding that attorneys subsequently involved in the   lawsuit called the number, requested a copy of the manual from the manufacturer and received one a few days later.

“If the employee had been provided this manual and then requested to sign a form attesting that he had been informed of this fact, it’s likely that the farm owner may have avoided court,” LaPrade says.

One of the main priorities of famers should be familiarizing themselves with Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements that relate to employees and to comply with them,” LaPrade stresses.

LaPrade has developed a site with the sole purpose of acquainting farm owners with their responsibilities under OSHA.

“The farm safety management plan puts OSHA law into action,” he says.

The site outlines the OSHA regulations that apply to farmers and also how to comply with these regulations.

“The site provides a check list to help producers’ identity the sites and equipment on their farm that potentially carry the most injury risk and that should form the bases for training as part of a comprehensive farm safety management plan,” LaPrade says.

He says all identified safety risks must be corrected according to the specifications outlined in the farm safety management plan forms posted on his website.

Once a farm safety management plan is completed, farm owners and operators are required to keep all related forms on file, including copies of worker training verification forms and self-site safety inspections, which should be conducted at least twice annually, he says.

Likewise, any serious injuries that occur on the farm should be carefully documented, including steps outlining how they could have been prevented. Under OSHA regulations, any injury that requires medical assistance and at least one lost day of work ranks as a serious injury and should be documented and permanently filed, according to LaPrade.