A safety culture in a feedyard must be established at the top. But it’s more successful in reducing accidents if it’s built from the bottom. At least that’s how it works at Nelson Farms/Valley Feeds feedyard at Long Island, KS.

Take, for example, how the operation uses consensus-building strategies to promote collaborative thinking in situations where safety needs to be evaluated. When anyone sees a possible safety issue, says owner Terry Nelson, they’re required to bring it up with others, discuss it and assess it with this ranking:

1. Good with everything – we are safe enough.
2. Question some things but OK – not totally safe but proceed.
3. A lot of concerns but not going to block it – proceed with caution.
4. We need to stop and talk about how to make this safe. Call a supervisor.

“What this does is allow anybody on that team or anybody working in an area to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We need to stop. We’re not quite as safe as we should be,’” Nelson says. In such a situation, the majority does not rule. Anybody can call a “4” at any time, he says, and that means nobody can proceed until they reassess the situation and take corrective actions to make the situation safe.

Making that happen is where management and workers come together to create a safety mindset. At Nelson Farms/Valley Feeds feedyard, that’s accomplished with incident reporting and safety bonuses.

The incident reporting is accomplished twice a month at payday. Paychecks are physically handed out during a company-wide meeting where employees are required to discuss a near-miss incident or similar type of safety concern.

For instance, Nelson says, during a recent payday safety meeting, an employee brought up the fact it was tornado season. “We took that a little further and said what happens if a tornado comes through? Where’s everybody going to go?” Shortly after that meeting, five tornadoes came through the area and everybody found their underground shelters, called “fraidy holes,” because they had recently talked about it, he explains.

Another part of the operation’s safety program is bonuses. Employees are eligible for a quarterly $100 bonus and a twice-yearly $200 team bonus, paid as gift certificates to the grocery store and gas station in town. That means each employee can earn up to $800/year in bonuses.

If someone is injured and worker’s comp expenses are incurred, the employee will lose their $100 quarterly bonus and two consecutive team bonuses. In addition, all team members will lose one $200 team bonus. Any individual directly involved in the incident but not injured will lose a quarterly $100 bonus and one $200 team bonus. However, if the incident is reported, the individual has immunity from losing a safety bonus.

"That seems a little rough,” Nelson says, “but actually our employees put this program together and that is what they want enforced.” What it accomplishes, he says, is keeping safety top-of-mind with every employee all the time. It builds team and individual accountability and establishes a teamwork environment that makes the feedyard a place where people want to work.

Creating a positive workplace is important at Brookover Cattle Co. of Scott City, KS, as well. The feedyard, according to Mike Thompson, assistant manager and safety coordinator, has conducted a successful program modeled after “The Biggest Loser” TV program.

Thompson says the program started after he and several other employees participated in a Scott City Recreation Department contest. The feedyard team of four lost a total of 86 lbs. and placed third.

Springboarding from that, the feedyard sponsored two similar contests within the operation. The most recent contest had 17 participants who paid a $20 entry fee, which went into the pot which the top three winners split. In addition, the feedyard refunded the $20 entry fee to any employee who lost more than 10 lbs. and matched the entry fee amount, doubling the winners’ take. Each participant had to pay $5 at the weekly weigh-in if they fell below their goal, which added another $100, Thompson says.

The most recent contest produced an average daily gain of negative 0.26 lb./person/day and a total weight loss of 308 lbs., Thompson says. “If you were operating a feedyard, you’d go broke,” he jokes. But from the employees’ perspective, it was a win-win.

“I think the program was very well received,” Thompson says. “A little money goes a long way to provide some incentive to employees. And it built good morale within the company. We had a lot of fun with it.”