Leaders should facilitate dialogue about accident avoidance

I loved growing up on our farm at Malaga, Ohio, however, there were some unpleasant tasks that had to be done. Spreading manure and castrating pigs topped the list of the least desirable tasks. However, I found that dehorning a bull was also unpleasant and dangerous.

One year, my Jersey cow, Betsy Alice, had a bull calf that was half Charolais, a much larger breed. As he grew, we realized he had inherited the horns of his Jersey side. The horns had been selected out of the Charolais breed a number of years ago.

Somewhere, Dad found a dehorning tool. It was a three-foot piece of equipment that looked like a pair of shrubbery shears. Divots in the blades allowed the horn to fit snugly and with pressure on the handles the horn was sliced off. Unfortunately, we procrastinated until the calf was about a year old and 500 pounds.

In preparation for the removal, Dad tied the yearling to a post in the center of a stall. My job was to steady the animal while Dad did the cutting. I grabbed the yearling by the head while Dad positioned the cutting tool. When the horn came off, a stream of blood shot into the air. Dad grabbed the cauterizing machine and placed it onto the wound to stop the bleeding.

Immediately, the yearling began straining against the halter and pinned me against the pole. I thought I was going to be crushed to death but Dad put his weight against the side of the yearling and released me. I was shaking and had to sit down for a moment. As we cut the other horn, I was more alert and held the animal farther down his back.

This event could have turned out badly. Neither one of us anticipated the crushing movement of the animal. Farming is dangerous. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported in 2015 that 401 people were killed in farming accidents and almost 200,000 others suffered disabling injuries in 1995. Many of us know people who overturned a tractor (the leading cause for farm deaths) or caught their hands in hay balers or corn pickers. In most cases a shortcut or what seemed to be an acceptable risk was taken. Too often, the unexpected occurs.

In our situation, Dad had planned the cutting but did not consider the possibility of me becoming trapped by the yearling. In our most dangerous industries of construction, transportation and agriculture, leaders need to learn from mistakes across the sector, educate people about past accidents, and facilitate dialogue about accident avoidance. Near misses like mine are also valuable data to reduce accident rates. Safety and leadership goes hand in hand.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.