Reviewing Worker Protection Standards ensures EPA complianceWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Intended to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) in 1992. WPS applies to anyone who applies pesticides on farms, in greenhouses or nurseries or in a forest setting.
EPA’s Region 8 Headquarters office enforces policy compliance in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, and routine WPS inspections can be expected at any time.
“EPA does routinely visit this state, and they maintain a presence in Wyoming,” comments Wyoming Department of Agriculture Technical Services Manager Hank Uhden, adding that recent indicators strongly indicate that the state may be due for WPS inspections this year.
EPA inspections examine the practices of agricultural, handler and farm labor contractor employers and their employees to ensure they are in compliance with product-specific WPS requirements, as well as generic WPS requirements, such as safety information and training, decontamination and worker notification procedures.
According to WPS Agricultural Inspection Guidance, “The goals in conducting WPS agricultural inspections include monitoring employer compliance, documenting violations, addressing noncompliance and increasing handler and worker safety.”
“Producers need to make sure they really follow label instructions,” notes Uhden.
Wearing the proper personal protection equipment, informing employees about application and communicating with contract applicators can help ensure safe and correct measures in compliance with WPS.
“If a farmer hires a commercial applicator to go out and do the pesticide application, that farmer still needs to comply with WPS. They need to have the label, the product information, the material safety data sheet or safety data sheet and informed employees,” he says.
As an example to remind producers about WPS compliance, Uhden shares a story about a producer who was given a hefty fine of nearly $250,000 for missing safety information.
“The guy removed a piece of paper from the manual that was kept at a central location in the office, which kept it in compliance. He took it to train employees, and it never got returned back to the book,” he explains.
Uhden encourages producers to make sure proper signage is posted and that all employees follow instructions, such as staying out of fields when label directions indicate that people should avoid the area for a given period of time after application.
Uhden also emphasizes recent WPS changes, reminding producers that Jan. 1, 2017 marks the date all new standards will go into effect, and farmers need to be in compliance.
“WPS just went through a federal rewrite of the regulations. We are under some changes now, and next year the people under the worker standards will have to be in compliance,” he states.
In April of this year, Wyoming Department of Agriculture employees will receive customized training from the EPA Region 8 office to learn about how changes will affect Wyoming producers and how extensive training will need to be to ensure all producers are in compliance with new regulations.
“We are going to do a top-lead train-down to the applicator level, working with our county Extension through the University of Wyoming (UW) to cover the necessary material for applicator trainings,” he adds.
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture and UW will team up to provide regional training sessions throughout the state, with opportunities for private and commercial applicators to learn more about program changes.
“Times and dates for those events will be announced later. We are still in the infancy of trying to get that going,” he mentions.
Changes to WPS regulations will include expanded training requirements, new buffer zone descriptions, record-keeping mandates, changes to safety regulations and more.
“If anyone has any questions, they can call us. We will be more than happy to visit with them and make sure they are doing what they need to do to be in compliance, based on their operation and what they do,” states Uhden.
Keeping safety in mind before and during cattle work prevents accidents on the ranchWritten by Heather Smith Thomas
Most cattle herds are gathered and worked for branding, vaccinating, pregnancy testing, weaning and other necessary management tasks. Many cowherds are put through the chute twice or more annually. It is important to make sure these cattle-working tasks are accomplished smoothly and safely, for health of the cattle and safety of the crew doing the job.
Nora Schrag, DVM at Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine, says the place to start is to walk through the facilities that will be used to hold, sort and restrain the cattle.
“Walk through them with two things in mind. Be thinking in terms of the people working around this facility, and take note of anything that might be dangerous to them. Many set-ups use pipes behind animals in the chute alleyway to keep them from backing up. Notice the way gates swings and the directions the levers go,” Schrag says.
“It depends on what kind of squeeze chute the rancher has. If they are standing in the wrong spot when an animal is released or their head is in the wrong place, the producer may get hurt. Ranchers need to make sure that they and their crew – whoever will be working there, especially if some are people who aren’t used to working around cattle or are new to the particular facility – know about the danger areas,” she adds.
Schrag encourages ranchers to point out places that crew members need to be aware of, such as levers that might get in the way or areas they can get into trouble.
“Walking through the facility with these things in mind is very important,” she explains.
“Also look at it from the point of view of the animal,” Schrag continues. “I always walk into the tub or down the chute alleyway looking for any nails that might be sticking out, bolts, flaps of tin hanging out that an animal could get caught on or anything they could put their foot through.”
“There might be something that was perfectly fine the last time we worked cattle but may not hold for today,” she says.
“Things change. These facilities are out in the weather, we use them, cattle bounce against things and sometimes it’s not very obvious where it broke the last time. Then an animal hits it again, and it’s very obvious,” Schrag says. “Pay attention to these things at the start, and the whole time we are working cattle. Keep facility functionality in mind.”
Handling for flow
It also pays to try to handle the cattle in the best possible way as they flow through the process.
“We might point out to the crew that a certain corner is a bit tight and they need to be careful as they go around it or not put too many through a certain gate at once. These things make a big difference. It’s a lot easier to prevent injuries than to fix them later,” Schrag says.
Keep human safety in mind when working cattle.
“If there’s just one person pushing cattle up and one person working at the chute, it’s not very complicated. But sometimes there might be several people doing things to make it go faster, and there are things that can make a difference in how likely we are to get poked with a needle or have some other kind of accident,” says Schrag.
“We need to be aware of every person and every animal around us. When we are refilling or holding a syringe, we should keep our elbows down at our sides. Then if someone walks past us, they’re not as likely to bump our elbows and move our hands,” she explains.
Handling and refilling syringes can lead to accidental needle pokes, and while most cattle vaccines aren’t dangerous to humans, some like blackleg can cause serious inflammatory reactions.
“Avoiding accidental needle pokes should be high priority. We need to keep our elbows at our sides,” she says.
Schrag also adds, “If someone is holding a bottle to refill the syringe, they should stick out one finger and touch their other arm for stability and steadiness. Then if someone bumps them, there’s no way the needle will jump into their hand. They should already have their hands locked together and braced.”
While working cattle
When working cattle, people are reaching through bars to vaccinate or apply medication. Depending on the facility, this may be easy and safe or it may be risky. The rancher and crew have to pay attention to what they are doing.
“Some general rules can keep us from getting hurt. Always reach over rather than through, when possible. If we are reaching through, be aware of what the animal is doing and be ready to pull back if the animal moves. Any time we can open a bar instead of reaching through it is preferable,” Schrag emphasizes
The animal may lunge or jump and catch a hand, wrist or arm between it and the bar.
“Even people who have been working around chutes for a long time sometimes get hurt. Anything we can do to minimize situations where our arms could get pinched will help,” she says.
Schrag encourages producers to think ahead to what might possibly happen, noting that it’s all about trying to predict those problems rather than helplessly watching them happen.
Reducing stress important for maintaining successful businessWritten by Saige Albert
“Farming and ranching is one of the top 12 high-stress careers,” says Lyndy Phillips, a comedian and motivational speaker. “Farm and ranch owners are only second from others for stress-related diseases.”
Many things cause stress, but Phillips notes that the number one cause of stress for Americans is their career. In agriculture, the next two leading causes of stress are an integral part of the day-to-day job.
“The second cause of stress is family,” he continues, noting that families, and especially children, are very stressful. “The third thing is money. It doesn’t matter how little or how much we have, money is a stressful part of life.”
Other things that cause stress are the weather and unexpected events that happen.
While some stress is important for sustaining life, Phillips comments that regulating and maintaining stress levels is also important to sustaining a high-quality life.
Negative impacts of stress
It is important to reduce stress levels for several reasons, according to Philips, who notes, “Stress makes us unhealthy.”
The psychological symptoms of stress influence a state of mind referred to as downshifting.
“We all know what downshifting is when we think about tractors,” Phillips says, citing work by Leslie Art, a renowned physician. “In a downshifted state, when we feel nervous, angry, depressed or stressed, our brains work less effectively. We aren’t thinking correctly, and we make a lot of mistakes.”
When thinking is inhibited, he notes that accidents happen more frequently, which can be severely detrimental to health.
“The fourth reason to reduce stress is because 33 percent of us feel like we are drowning in it. If we experience high levels of stress for long periods of time, that is extreme stress, and it can do a lot of damage,” he says.
Extreme stress levels result in the six leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments and others.
Results of stress
When stress becomes a prevalent part of producers’ lives, Phillips noted that a number of things happen.
“When we are stressed, our hobbies and the things we enjoy go away. We just don’t care about them any more,” he says. “Farmers just tend to let things go when they get stressed.”
Next, stress induces anger, particularly over incidents that are minor or that wouldn’t normally trigger anger.
“If we find ourselves getting angry over things that shouldn’t make us angry, we might have a high level of stress,” Phillips comments.
“Third is fatigue,” he continues. “Stress makes us tired all the time, everywhere.”
“If we have these symptoms, we need to reduce our stress,” Phillips says.
To reduce stress levels, Phillips notes that there are six different strategies farmers and ranchers can utilize.
“One way to reduce stress is listening to music,” he says. “Music is medically proven to reduce stress. It relaxes the mind.”
Exercise and walking can also reduce stress, but Phillips notes that walking on-the-job isn’t the same as taking a relaxing stroll.
“We need to take time to take a walk leisurely that isn’t part of the job,” he explains. “When we enjoy walking, it is healthy.”
Reading and educating oneself is also a healthy way to reduce stress.
“When we get more educated and learn to do things better and more efficiently, it can also brings stress down,” Phillips says.
He continues, “If we are really stressed, prayer and meditation can also really bring stress down.”
Phillips also highlighted vacation as an option to effectively reduce stress, and while ag producers often don’t have time to take a lot of vacation, it can be important to find or make the time for a break.
“The last thing that helps to reduce stress is laughter,” Phillips says. “Medicine has proven that when we laugh, we reduce stress, and we can also heal our body.”
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins in the body and induces increased production of gamma-interferon, T-cells and B-cells, all of which are important immune cells in the human body.
“Heart attack survivors experiencing 30 minutes of laughter a day were less likely to have another heart attack,” he says. “There are mental and social benefits to laughter.”
“Just living life can be stressful, and being on the farm can be stressful,” Phillips emphasizes, “but we need to find ways to reduce our stress. Don’t cut life short because of stress.”
Phillips presented “Laugh More, Stress Less” at the 22nd Annual Wyoming Women’s Ag Symposium, held in Casper in mid-November.
Interactive session reviews challenges in business transition amongst familiesWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Worland – University of Extension Educators Caleb Carter, John Hewlett and Jeremiah Vardiman spoke with producers at WESTI Ag Days in Worland about issues they face in their own operations related to the transfer of business management on Feb. 19.
Collecting anonymous answers from the group, the Extension team and audience looked at how opinions differ between older and younger generations.
The Extension team asked which families had regular discussions about financial information and bank statements, which families had an outlined process for conflict resolution, what the most important technologies are in irrigation and more.
“We often see that the founding generation believes they encourage family members to practice effective communication skills, but the next generation folks don’t necessarily agree,” commented Hewlett. “Just because we think it’s happening doesn’t mean those on the other side of the issue agree.”
Vardiman also reminded producers that stressful situations, such as a death in the family, can disrupt how well people communicate and how families work together to solve issues.
“The issues surrounding the transfer of the estate are one thing, but we should also be talking about the management responsibility and how to bring the next generation in to become more involved on a day-to-day or year-to-year basis,” Hewlett explained.
Individuals have their own perspectives on certain issues, while the family dynamic may not always align with those same wants and desires. The Extension team acknowledged how uncomfortable certain conversations can be.
“We may also have non-family members or more extended family who are involved and included in the business but not part of the close-knit family,” Hewlett added.
All of the interconnected relationships impact management on the operation and how business decisions are made.
“There are a lot of different connections to put together to decide who is where and what roles and responsibilities have been assumed versus those that everyone wants,” he continued.
Breaking down the issues into three different categories, the Extension team reviewed business issues, communication and production management.
Business issues relate to topics such as the formalized structure of management and how business transactions are conducted.
“Where is the checkbook at? What loans need to be paid and when?” Vardiman asked the group, inquiring how many family members would be able to answer those kinds of questions.
Communication topics included ways in which business information is shared amongst family members, while remaining sensitive to the varying perspectives across age, gender and roles within the business and family.
One of the audience members reminded the group that having a centralized location for all of the relevant paperwork and financial information is helpful. In her own experience, a family member who passed away had been the only one who knew about a particular piece of land that was still under a loan. Once he passed, no one knew there were payments that needed to be made.
“Communication at the business level happens at a different level then when we are talking one-on-one,” related Hewlett.
He also asked, “How many families support and encourage family members to improve and practice effective communication skills?”
Turning to production management, the Extension team asked the audience to consider who in their families manages specific tasks related to livestock, cropping, labor or other production activities.
“Who is personally involved in making management decisions on the operation?” Carter questioned.
Two-thirds of the older generation participating in the discussion indicated they were directly involved, while about 50 percent of the younger generation expressed they felt directly involved.
Carter then presented a series of questions about which management practices each individual preferred in the context of his or her farm or ranch.
For example, he asked, “What is the most important method for marketing calves under current conditions – the sale barn, video auctions, forward contracts or direct sales?”
The group was split almost by thirds amongst forward buying and direct sales, the sale barn and video auctions.
Carter encouraged family members to talk with each other about why they preferred certain methods, discussing which advantages and challenges they perceived for each option.
One of the audience members noted that when the older generation in a family opposes an idea, it isn’t always because they are stuck in their ways. Sometimes, she shared, they have experience that has persuaded them in a particular direction.
Carter echoed her comments saying, “We need to talk about why we do things a certain way and share what happened when we tried something that didn’t work.”
Hewlett reminded the group that going through a transition means letting go of some of the control and allowing new business managers to make mistakes. The goal, he said, is to let the incoming generation make some small mistakes instead of leaving them to make big mistakes that could jeopardize the whole business down the road.
“Transferring management responsibilities is a lot more likely to get done successfully if we plan for it,” he said.
Managing employees should be top concernWritten by Saige Albert
Many farms, ranches and ag businesses across Wyoming are family owned and operated, but University of Wyoming Extension Educator John Hewlett comments managing employees can be key in operations.
“Within the business of agriculture, it makes things easier for managers if employees better understand where they fit,” Hewlett says. “We should develop a system for evaluating employee responsibilities in addition to the work capacity for some employees.”
Employees should understand what they are responsible for and how to do their jobs, which means that employers must take an active role in managing employees.
Hewlett notes that one of the most important aspects of evaluating performance is setting up a communication structure with employees.
“This implies that we should have conversations so employees understand what is expected,” he says. “If there are questions, we can interact to clarify.”
Open lines of communication help employers to avoid wrecks in the operation where employees thought they had authority to act and didn’t or did not understand their role.
“The idea is to avoid a wreck down the road,” Hewlett says. “We want to enhance employee ability, which also includes direct training.”
To enhance employee abilities, Hewlett notes that it is important to discover what motivates them.
“A lot of people think motivation is all about pay, but those of us in agriculture are probably not involved in what we are doing because of the pay,” he says. “Employees don’t enter jobs necessarily for the pay.”
Employees are also motivated by the possibility for experience, the location of the career, the responsibility or the challenges involved.
“We have to take these things into account,” Hewlett says. “Pay and performance are the biggest things we have control over. But are there possibilities for indirect compensation? Is that clear to the employee? There might be a need for communication so that everyone is clear on compensation.”
The chance for advancement may be another motivating factor.
Those employees who also supervise others are particularly important on ag operations, and Hewlett notes that they are the linchpins of the operation.
“They are caught in the middle,” he says. “Sometimes they are part of the crew and accomplishing the day-to-day work, but other times they are the point at which business turns.”
“They are key to making sure the business operates the way we have in mind,” Hewlett comments.
Since those employees are supervising the work of others, determining how much responsibility they have and how it is delegated is important, he continued.
“There are some discussions that should be had to help us decide what kinds of things are worth delegating and which may be easier to take care of as the ranch owner,” Hewlett explains.
It is also important to consider, after work is delegated, how to communicate what work should be done.
“How that delegation is carried out in terms of supervisor instructions is also important,” Hewlett continues. “There are lots of styles of instruction.”
For example, he explains that authoritarian supervisors operate under a system where workers are told what to do and then receive criticism if the work isn’t carried out as expected by the supervisor.
“The other levels involve more thinking from the workers about how we are going to carry out work as opposed to management describing how they want it to happen,” he says, noting that other styles of management involve employees more directly in making decisions. “We can also give employees ideas about the direction we want to go and the boundaries.”
“One way is not right or wrong,” Hewlett says. “In different circumstances, on different operations, there are some situations that lead to one approach over the other.”
At the same time, Hewlett mentions that leadership styles can also facilitate employee growth and may help reward employees for their success.
“How can we use leadership to bring out the skills of our employees so they can become more autonomous and take over some responsibility from management?” he asked. “Starting off with an authoritative approach and working to more of a coaching situation can help people move forward and build responsibility within the organization.”
Evaluating employees based on their supervisory performance, Hewlett continues, is also an important part of management.
“Hiring someone with experience helps with supervisory performance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mentor people into those roles,” he says. “There are things we can do to coach them into being more effective in team situations.”
Hewlett notes that there are various stages of team performance and formation that can help employees to be effective and efficient.
“We have to have a formalized process for managing and evaluating employees,” Hewlett says. “This is critical to getting our job done. Most ag operators have a sketchy system in place, but there are ways to make it better.”
Hewlett spoke during the 2015 Progressive Rancher Forum, held on Nov. 30 in Casper.