Clemson Agricultural Safety

Safety Spotlight – October 2020

“Like many youths in the 70’s, I started mowing lawns in the summer when I was twelve years old. At the age of fifteen, I started caddying and working at a local golf course in Arlington, Virginia. After many attempts at different career paths, I took the advice of several of the golf course superintendents I had worked for and enrolled in Lake City Community College in Lake City, Florida where I earned an Associate of Science Degree in Golf Course Operations. I was the golf course superintendent of a few courses in North Carolina but ultimately chose a path of sod production. In February of 2000, I purchased 410 acres of land in Rembert, SC with my wife. Twenty years later and another 1,000 acres to boot, Modern Turf, Inc. produces nine varieties of warm-season grass, has a lawn care service, a sports turf management division, and two retail outlets.”

How important is it for farmers and other people in agriculture to be safe?
HK: I was always taught safety first. Whether it is a protective suit, respirator, eye or ear protection, it has to be adorned according to safety protocol. Lifting, operation of equipment, and a general sense of good safety practices are essential to any operation, agriculture, or otherwise.

How often do you run across the topic of safety in your position?
HK: Probably not enough! We hold safety meetings with our different divisions and they tend to occur mostly when we have a rainy spell and are all caught up with everything else. We also have them more often in the winter as there is just more downtime.

What do you think the biggest concern in regarding agricultural safety?
HK: I think the public has a misconception that farmers apply chemicals at will as oppose to using best management practices. The public perception is no one of conservation which I find to be the case with most farmers. We know a labeled application rate is good and when treating hundreds of acres we would be wasting money to miscalculate or over apply for the sake of a higher rate. I also don’t think the public is aware of the research and technology that goes into introducing a new product to the market. The products we use today have so much less active ingredients and are so specifically targeted to a specific pest as opposed to the broad-spectrum products of old.

Why is safety necessary?
HK: From a business standpoint, if you are not adhering to safety standards you will ultimately pay the price through OSHA or Workers Compensation Insurance. On a personal level, what kind of person would not look after the well-being of their employees and provide the best safety training and equipment available? We try, I know we can do better, and answering these questions is probably a good wake-up call for me!

What do you think is the best way to teach agricultural safety?
HK: Video seems to work well as they are often produced by people who do it for a living as opposed to a supervisor who is doing it sporadically. Unfortunately, lots of our equipment is unique and does not have such videos available. Hands-on is really good as nothing replaces actually doing something physically.

What is the biggest way to leave an impression on middle to high school age children?
HK: I think hands-on learning is by far the best for this age group. Most of them have never had access to farm equipment and are impressed with how big an agricultural operation can be.

Do you have any advice for the agricultural sector in this time of uncertainty?
HK: It certainly is different these days! We have been vigilant in our COVID safety efforts but I think we are reaching a fatigue factor. I tell my people that you can only do the best you can do – but you better do the best you can do!

Submitted by Hank Kerfoot

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