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*This list by itself is not a guarantee for your safety. Always use all safety measures available to you engaging in farm and homestead work.*
It was like any other weekday at work. A steady stream of patients were coming in and out of the tiny rural hospital and I headed over to answer the ringing phone. “Emergency Room, this is Deborah.”
“Um…Honey? How long does my hand have to bleed before I should think about getting some help?”
I recognized the voice immediately. “Come on in Honey, I’ll stitch you up…again.”
Injuries on the homestead—any homestead—are inevitable. We read stories all the time about our ancestors loosing hands, fingers, or children to various accidents. With some proper safety guidelines many can be avoided.
Here is a list of basic safety measure to follow and build upon. (This is only a basic list. You and you alone are responsible for your own safety.)
Know Your Animals
We may be able to communicate with some of them, but we don’t speak the same language. And even when we are communicating with them, we can’t make them do what we want. An animal has instincts. When it is provoked, scared, or frustrated, it can act differently than if it was calm.
It is important to know why your animal is acting the way it is, so you can help it safely. A person may know that if one horse is skittish, they can get in with it and look around for a reason and the horse will stay back; while a different horse might start stomping and kicking.
Many injuries occur with large stock animals every year, and because of the size and power of these animals, humans very often come out on the losing end.
I can’t tell you how many patients in my ER have said to me, “I just don’t understand, animals usually love me,” as they are trying to process their injury. If an animal is not yours, you probably don’t know it well enough to treat it as though it were your own.
Don’t jump on someone else’s horse without them telling you it’s okay. Don’t get in a pasture with someone else’s cows. Do you have a temperate rooster? Don’t assume your neighbor or friend does too. And just because you’ve been friendly with someone else’s animals before doesn’t mean today is a good day.
Use Proper Tools
One characteristic that makes homesteaders so successful is their ability to adapt, and engineer what they need out of what they have. However, some tools just shouldn’t be engineered on the site.
Repeat after me, “If it’s not a punch, it’s not a punch” and “a screwdriver is not a chisel.”
Safety glasses and breathing protection are also proper tools. Use them.
Pay Attention to Nature
There’s a saying we have in our area, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change.” It’s absolutely true. Five minutes is all it takes to go from sunshine to snow (in fact, the first time I ever came to this state was for a 4th of July camping trip—and it snowed).
Know what weather is possible, and never doubt how quickly it could change.
Know your geography. We have volcanoes, earthquakes, and sink holes (maybe I will tell you the story one day about how the Farmer was in his tractor going around one when it started to sink in and we had a near miss).
We have ice caves that most people who come to visit probably have no idea they are walking over.
We have poisonous plants. Our wildlife includes bears, mountain lions, badgers, bald eagles and other birds of prey, moose, rattlesnakes and more. Unlike the movies, these animals do not hunt us down, most injuries in our area occur if we’ve snuck up on one of them.
You’ve got to know your geography, weather patterns, plant life and wildlife–and you’ve got to respect them as a force to be reckoned with.
Don’t Be a Show-Off
Best case scenario when you’re showing-off is someone will tell you, “I told you so.” Worse case scenario is a fatality. Wanna show off? Wait until your away from equipment, animals, and unpredictable nature–and even then, please use common sense.
Get Help Before You Need Help
Having a partner is advised any time you might need someone to go for help. Often times when working on a farm or homestead, you are out of sight to the world. If you get hurt, no one is around to see or hear you—and it could be days before someone comes to look for you.
Any time there exists a possibility you could cut yourself, get pinned under equipment, or any other form of isolating injury, take someone with you.
This is another way we keep our elderly and widows independent in our homesteaded community. It takes a lot of time for us to help them with their firewood, or butchering of animals, etc. In return, our elderly and widowed population are very busy riding with us just on the chance they will need to get help. (And as a bonus, they love the company, and we love to hear their stories about the good-old days.)
If you are new to the farm or homestead life, find an elderly person and adopt them for this reason. You will always have someone to go get you help, and you will learn a ton from them.
Use Proper Lighting
If you can’t see it, you’re more likely to make a mistake. Don’t have good lights in the barn? Consider waiting until dawn before going in there if you’re likely to step on a snake or scare a barn animal not used to seeing you at night.
I always thought if I was making enough noise at night, nocturnal animals would stay away. Turns out I was wrong. We have had elk, deer, and raccoons very close to us in unfavorable lighting conditions while we have been laughing, joking, and quite simply making a loud ruckus. Our little solar lanterns don’t bother them at all.
The Easy Way Is Sometimes Better Than The Fast Way
Aside from the homeschooling, gardening, and sewing, nothing on a homestead is physically easy. Everything that needs moved is heavy, and it all needs done quickly to move on to the next chore.
It’s easy to think during firewood collecting season that if you go as fast as you can maybe you can save a few hours at the end of the week, or get another chore done—but truth is, it’s more likely to get you hurt.
And once you’re hurt, you’ve still got the same chores to do. Try to think of unique ways to save your body and still get things done. Could you haul wood on the sled instead of carrying a bunch of loads? The kids and I do this even though it probably takes us twice as long to get it done—but it doesn’t wear on our bodies.
Always Wear The Right Clothing
Never wear loosing clothing around moving parts.
Don’t wear shorts or short-sleeved shirts out into the brush. Going to be in the sun all day? Cover up your skin. Layer your clothing whenever possible–you never know when you’ll need to take something off or put something back on.
While there are countless ways to save money on your wardrobe, I would never suggest cheap boots. Everyone in our home has their own Bogs. They are durable for the very cold winter temperatures we have here, and they are waterproof enough to wear in the fields in the summer. They are never cheap, but they are always dependable.
We also wear Carhartt pants and bibs nearly exclusively all year round. Jeans wear out, tear, and aren’t always warm. Any article of clothing that tears while you’re working leaves your skin exposed. And likely when the tear occurs, your skin underneath incurs damage to it as well.
While Carhartts aren’t cheap, they replace multiple pair of jeans. It is rare that any of us rip any Carhartt item. When it has happened, it’s been a coat that had another layer underneath protecting our skin and keeping us safe from the elements.
Caution: if you have never worn Carhartts before, don’t order them on-line. No two designs measure the same. Know your size and design before ordering. Amazon will not return Carhartts because “you ordered the wrong size.” We know exactly what designs and sizes we wear, and watching Amazon prices is where you will get the best deal. Last year a bunch of sizes went on sale for $16 apiece. I ordered a ton of them, and we still have some put up not yet used. I highly suggest getting them this way if you can.
Use Common Cents
This is probably the most important preventative measure on the list.
While genuine accidents will always happen here and there, many injuries can be avoided by following simple guidelines. What one guideline have you found that has kept you the safest on your farm or homestead?