It is obvious that farming can be a dangerous profession, but those working in the commercial hog farming business are exposed to particularly hazardous situations on a daily basis. As a hog farm employer, you need to continually analyze your risks to keep your business afloat. These risks not only include the health and safety of your employees, but also the physical condition of your product, which is crucial to maximizing your profits.
Keep Your Hogs Healthy and Profitable
One of the biggest risks when farming any type of animal commercially is ensuring they stay healthy so you can stay in business. Efficient operations increase profitability by reducing the spread of disease and integrating operations; however, small operations can also turn a profit by specializing in a single stage, keeping hogs healthy and raising them humanely.
Depending on what kind of business you run—whether it is farrow-to-finish, growing, wean-to-finish, breeding, large or family-run—your risks will change. Most of these hazards you are already aware of and take protective measures to prevent, but there are a few common sources of loss that may be overlooked.
Minimize transport loss. A recent Iowa State University study looked at more than 2 million hogs and found that more than 17,000 of them had the potential for reduced value at the processing plant because of carelessness during the transporting process. The National Hog Farmer reports loss averages as high as 2.4 percent per trailer load transported to slaughter plants in the United States over the past seven years. While this loss might seem negligible, it could accumulate into thousands of dollars in lost business and make a huge difference in a tough market. Consider training your truck drivers and loading crews more thoroughly to emphasize gentleness of starts and stops and proper handling in the sorting, moving and loading process. Also, ensure that your trailers maintain an acceptable temperature and have suitable ventilation even when the vehicle is stopped.
As an employer, you must understand the nature of your exposures and exactly how they happen in order to prevent them from occurring at your facility.
Emphasize disease control. Improperly managed manure removal systems could cost you money in the form of dwindling health of your hogs. Manure buildup in barns holds the possibility for disease, especially Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is particularly fatal in piglets. Maintain good hygiene and proper temperature control in farrowing crates to lower your mortality rate and increase productivity and profit. In addition, better hygiene leads to healthier hogs, and healthier hogs gain weight more quickly and easily than those exposed to manure buildup and noxious odor. You might consider looking into technological innovations in hog waste and lagoon management systems to help. Between 5 and 10 percent of U.S. hogs are removed from the industry every year because of death and disease, so it is important to stay ahead of your competition by implementing good, healthy practices.
Avoid unsound contracts. Farming is a dangerous occupation, and it is also an unpredictable one. If you depend on outside resources for corn, soybeans, water and medications, make sure these inputs will always be available. Feed inputs can suddenly be in short supply because of bad weather or because of competition from other non-feed harvests. Enter into solid business contracts with these providers to guarantee plenty of supplies for your anticipated number of pigs and hogs.
Keep Your Employees Healthy and Productive
Just as keeping your hogs and pigs healthy is crucial to your business, ensuring your employees are able to work and that they are in a good environment will also help you stay in business and turn a better profit. There are three major employee health concerns specific to the hog farming industry that you should work to avoid or minimize:
- Respiratory problems. According to the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health, one quarter of those working at hog farms have one or more documented respiratory problems. The most common are chronic bronchitis and asthma-like wheezing, which could both be caused by dust, endotoxin and/or ammonia exposure. Professors at Iowa’s College of Public Health suggest using an extra one percent of oil or fat in the hogs’ diet and reducing the distance between feed drops and feeders to reduce the amount of dust in the air from feed, microbes, dried manure and pig skin cells. Require your employees to use the proper respirators if they will be working more than two hours per day in the barn.
- Manure gas exposure. Manure pits more than three feet deep that are agitated after a long period at rest release hydrogen sulfide gas, which is extremely dangerous. Consider enacting a policy that requires employees to exit the building during agitation and for the 30 minutes following in addition to requiring the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Also, it is important to empty the pit three or four times per year to reduce the amount of gas buildup. Another option is to raise the pH of the manure to keep gas from escaping the pit and potentially harming employees.
- Accidental needlesticks. These types of incidents are far more common than expected, and the injection of chemicals meant for animals can be exceptionally dangerous to humans. Accidental needlesticks can result in several types of injuries, including inflammation, infection and hyperimmune responses. Needlesticks involving reproductive hormones can be even more hazardous for female employees, causing hormone imbalance and even miscarriages. Instruct employees to practice caution when removing needle caps and disposing needles. Keep the proper material data safety sheets (MSDS) on file in case of a needlestick, and do not force female workers to work with hog reproductive hormones if they feel uncomfortable.
Remember that in addition to these hazards, general farming industry dangers also are present. Examples of farming risks you should bring up with employees are proper animal handling, hearing protection, proper machinery and equipment use, repetitive motion hazards, safe lifting techniques and protection against slips, trips and falls.
Be Kind to Your Neighbors
Hog farms garner lots of media attention, especially in Iowa and North Carolina, where the industry is largest. However, not all of the publicity is positive. There is growing concern among scientists that hog farm odor and byproducts could be hazardous to the environment and to people living near large operations. There have been several lawsuits recently involving neighbors of large hog farms who claim the byproducts are negatively affecting their health. Legal issues can be financially draining and negatively affect your business both at a profit level and in terms of reputation.
While there is limited evidence supporting residents’ claims that hydrogen sulfide gas omitted by large hog farms leads to serious neurological damage of people living nearby, it does not hurt to be cautious. Avoid the increasingly more common practice of spraying liquid manure into the air when the chemical levels in collection pools get too high. Regularly test the air in and around your facility for hydrogen sulfide and ammonia concentrations—the recommended standards vary by state, but they are generally around 15 parts per billion and 150 parts per billion, respectively.
In general, comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) standards of hazard control. Also, take additional care when disposing of chemicals and waste, and always keep the risk of litigation top-of-mind.
If you have additional questions about your exposures as a hog farm employer, contact Kingsgate Insurance at 515.576.4321.
Provided by Kingsgate Insurance
This Risk Insights is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. © 2007-2010, 2012 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.