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Safety should be a top priority for specialty farms and agritourism businesses that transport customers and visitors on wagons or trailers, according to Hugh McPherson, a specialty grower and agritourism operator from Pennsylvania.
“You might think, ‘I’m not big enough (of an operation) to have a hayride problem,’ or ‘I’m the only driver. What could possibly go wrong?’” McPherson told a specialty grower audience. “What’s the cost of not doing anything? People can be injured.”
McPherson owns and operates Maple Lawn Farms, a farm market, orchard and farm fun park in New Park, Pennsylvania. He presented a hayride safety workshop at the Specialty Crops Conference earlier this year.
McPherson emphasized he was not providing legal advice but offering safety information.
First, McPherson urged specialty farms to check their liability coverage with their insurance agents and “submit a list of every single thing you are going to be doing.”
After incidents on his own farm, the specialty grower improved wagons used to transport people and added safety protocols to protect customers, employees, his family – and the family business. Farmers need to keep in mind they are responsible for visitors’ and customers’ safety, McPherson stressed.
Warning signs are one way to notify people with certain conditions. McPherson posts signs advising pregnant women and visitors with bad backs and other health restrictions to not ride or participate in certain activities.
Along with posted signs outlining hayride safety rules, McPherson also has an audio recording with safety instructions played before each ride. The recordings ensure visitors receive the same information every time. McPherson added his recordings also provide information about other attractions and where to get food and drinks.
Every 30 minutes across the grounds, another recording reminds visitors about potential conditions, such as slippery surfaces and uneven footing.
Each day, employees run through an opening and closing checklist for each tractor, wagon and venue, such as the corn maze. Clipboards with opening and closing checklists are attached to each attraction.
The opening list for hayrides checks fuel, oil and hydraulic fluid levels; gauge checks all tires’ pressure; and running the tractor and wagon through one cycle of the route.
The day’s visual inspection covers the hitch pin and safety pin, chain to the wagon, chain to the tractor, tire inflation, wagon railings and gate, guest stairs, seats, slow-moving-vehicle emblem and sound systems. McPherson recommended using a locking hitch pin that “can’t become accidentally detached” and safety chains on the wagon frame – not the tongue.
McPherson stresses to his employees that they use the checklists. “I have a system. They have to check everything to have a job,” he said, adding, “It makes them look good, too.”
Tractor operator checklists include who completed the inspection, the date and time. Daily reports are kept on file. At the end of the season, a master list is compiled. “We know who did what on which day,” he explained.
Tractors are equipped with fire extinguishers and a communication system for the operator. Wagons are equipped with a bulkhead barrier to prevent falls off the front. McPherson also marks each wagon with an identifiable feature, like a number. “If there is a problem, you can say that (number) wagon is down,” he noted.
At the start of the season, McPherson advised inspections of any routes and trails and follow up with regular inspections. Look for any features that may need grooming. For example, tree branches may be lower since the previous fall and need trimming to prevent wagon riders from being hit.