Fatal accidents, explosions and fires are rare occurrences in the cattle feeding industry. But they do happen. Just one incident can cause massive personal and financial upheaval.

Feedyard management can help eliminate accidents through periodic mill inspections that identify and help correct any shortcomings, says C. Reed Richardson, director of the Center for Feed Industry Research and Education (CFIRE). "No one sacrifices efficiency by being safe," Richardson says. "It's really the opposite. If you defer maintenance, you reach the point where you can't accomplish what you need to as a feedyard."

CFIRE along with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) is promoting feed mill safety through a series of seminars they hold for mill management.

"Our objective with safety at TCFA is to prevent accidents, and to protect management should an accident occur," says Derrell Havins, TCFA's safety manager. "These seminars help us keep feedyard management up to date with what's going on with safety as well as how they can comply with the law."

Checklist Provides A Guide One of the key components of these training programs is a feed mill inspection check sheet (see Table 1). The check sheet helps feedyard personnel check the working status, cleanliness and efficiency of six key areas:

U fire protection equipment,

U maintenance,

U housekeeping,

U lighting system,

U heat and power, and

U feed storage.

By checking off the key questions, feedyard personnel can grade the status of their company. When there are deficiencies, they can solve them.

"Whenever problems are found, management must get together to resolve them," Richardson says. "All feedyards should have a safety folder or ring binder to guide the facility. The checklist should be added to this safety folder for each program and feedyard in the company. This should accompany any s afety programs that are required by law."

No Two Are The Same No two feedyards are the same, says Richardson. Certain items, like drainage or air control methods, will always vary. Thus, it makes sense for feedyard personnel to use the checklist as a guide, modeling it to meet their own needs.

Most feedyards should undertake quarterly inspections on their own, Richardson adds. These complement semi-annual inspections offered by groups like TCFA.

"As part of being a TCFA member, I go in and work with the manager on safety," Havins says. "I don't tell him what to do; I just let him know what problems I uncovered. But TCFA's inspection should supplement the feedyard's own quarterly inspection of fire extinguishers, wiring and other items. These inspections have to receive the full backing of management to be effective."

Many feedyards appoint a committee to conduct the inspections, Havins says. For instance, committee members might represent the mill, the shop, the processing area and the office. Together, they look for problems like exposed wiring. Because they don't work in the feed mill every day, the employees from outside the mill are more likely to see problems with new eyes.

CFIRE and TCFA began their feedmill safety programs in 1998 at the request of larger, corporate feedyards. So far, the meetings have been held in Lubbock, Dalhart, Hereford and Kingsville. Future meetings are being planned for additional sites in Texas as well as Oklahoma and New Mexico. Generally, mill managers and the first and second in command attend.

The focus changes depending on the area. Some topics covered have included housekeeping, eliminating fire hazards and explosions, mill inspections, safety policies and procedures, welding accident prevention and hearing protection. The goal is to do everything possible to prevent a controllable safety problem from becoming a nightmare.

"The seminars emphasize that a feedyard can't wait until it has an accident to consider safety," Richardson says. "If you have a fire in the boiler room and your feedlot is 40 miles from town, you've got problems if you haven't planned how to handle that emergency. We want feedyards to consider all possibilities before they reach that kind of situation."