Swine & U Diane DeWitte

Part of the National Ag Safety Awareness Program is a focus on safety around livestock — including livestock handling and transportation. Stressed livestock are more likely to injure themselves, their handlers and are more difficult to work with.

Providing stockmanship training for workers handling livestock is key to preventing injuries.  Stockmanship is a practice which promotes positive animal handling and is important for both animal and caretaker safety. It reduces stress, increases productivity, and reduces potential injuries on the farm. The Upper Midwest Agriculture Safety and Health Center (UMASH) has resources developed to promote and teach stockmanship for caretakers and managers of all animal species. Visit umash.umn.edu/farm-safety to learn more.

Considering production across the different phases, from the movement of replacement females, weaned pigs, or marketing of finishing, and culled breeding stock, a conservative estimate for the total number of pigs in transport on any given day in the United States adds up to over one million.

More often than not, those several thousands of transporters can expect to have a typical day with no major issues. These individuals will have completed a livestock transport certification program, Pork Checkoff’s Transport Quality Assurance, and are prepared to safely handle and haul these animals. Despite following proper procedure and the rules of the road, accidents do happen.   

Keep current contact information

Having emergency contact information readily accessible for producers and employees is the first step to prepare for accidents, breakdowns or delays. Producers who have participated in Common Swine Industry Audit or had a Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) Site Assessment know that having this information up-to-date is a requirement of certification.

Just as producers should keep copies of this information in the office, livestock haulers should also have those emergency contacts on hand. Similar to an on-farm emergency response plan, the names, addresses and phone numbers for the producer, police, fire, ambulance and herd veterinarian should be included with the pigs being transported. 

Additional information, such as the company, destination or harvest plant dispatch, insurance provider, and roadside assistance will be needed when dealing with a transport issue.  Roadside traffic incidents, no matter the severity, cause added stress to drivers and livestock alike.  Keeping up-to-date copies of these contacts, in the cab and on paper, can alleviate the added anxiety and ensure key contacts aren't forgotten during the scramble of dealing with an incident.

Accidents happen. What should you do?

Pork producers and transporters have accepted numerous responsibilities in their profession — with biosecurity, pork quality and animal health and wellness being closely tied to transportation.  In the event where a truck driver is involved in a traffic incident, these responsibilities — in addition to human safety, property, and public perception of the industry — will be put to the test. 

For accidents occurring on public roadways involving other vehicles, the first priority is providing safety and attention to all parties involved. Alerting the authorities, and exchanging information are also initial steps to take.

When transporting livestock, there are considerations that must be taken into account beyond those typical of a non-commercial accident: Alert emergency operator about size, number and condition of pigs on board, as well as the status of any loose animals or hazards that may influence public safety. Place emergency warning devices to alert other traffic of accident scene. Contact harvest plant and the pig farmer with details and updates of the incident. Herd any loose pigs from road away from traffic and provide protection and comfort. Take pictures of the accident scene. Include road conditions, vehicle position, damage and other views for documentation later reference. Refer media to first responders in charge.

Livestock emergency response trailers available

The Minnesota Pork Board and Region 5 of Homeland Security Emergency Management created emergency response trailers for use in situations where a transporter has a roll-over or some type of accident requiring additional assistance controlling livestock on board or loose animals at the scene. 

These trailers, located throughout Southern Minnesota in Adams, Buffalo Lake, Fairmont, Granite Falls, Pipestone, Sleepy Eye and Worthington are equipped with livestock panels, sorting boards, chains and other equipment necessary to provide safety for both animals and traffic alike.  If a livestock transporter needs assistance with controlling loose animals, requesting one of these trailers can be done by contacting 911 or other emergency response officials. Once one of these trailers is deployed, responders will be able to provide brief training to assist transporters in securing an accident scene.

Key considerations for safe driving

Weather — One key consideration not only for animal safety and welfare, but safe transport, is weather. Throughout a typical year in the upper Midwest, producers experience temperature fluctuations ranging from both ends of the extreme and all forms of precipitation.

In the interest of keeping pigs on the trailer for the shortest amount of time reasonable, up-to-date forecasts and communication with the processing plant or destination will be vital in order to avoid delays or detours.   

Fatigue — The nature of working in pork production means the scope of daily tasks extends beyond a normal work day. Intense and long hours can often lead to fatigue, and individuals suffering from fatigue who get behind the wheel pose a significant threat to human and animal safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 100,000 reported crashes are caused by drowsy or fatigued drivers annually.

Signs of fatigue can include slower reflexes, an inability to focus or keep eyes open or missing road signs, exits, landmarks etc. Haulers must be able to identify these different symptoms and be proactive in addressing them before transporting livestock.

In order to prevent fatigue, understand your body and get enough sleep. Seven and a half hours is generally recognized as the amount of sleep required by an average adult. However, some people may need a little more or little less to function at normal capacity.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle by drinking plenty of fluids, eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise. Healthy individuals are better able to fight off illness and perform under the stress.

Don't be afraid to take breaks or ask for a substitute driver. Fresh air, stretching and brief periods of activity can provide energy and increased attentiveness. If a driver feels they are unable to safely drive, they should pull over and alert company and destination dispatch of the situation.

Distracted driving — An emerging epidemic is taking its toll on the nation’s roadways in the form of distracted driving. Between the increasing capabilities of cell phones with texting, social media and other apps, complicated infotainment systems found on dashboards or the hundreds of other things transporters try to do or think about, it's easy to see how drivers have become almost absent from the task of driving. 

Since 2015, it is estimated the number of roadway accidents causing fatalities directly linked to distracted driving has increased by nearly 6 percent.

In a situation where someone is driving and sending text messages, their risk of crash increased by 20 times compared to non-distracted driving.  Even features like voice-to-text can create safety hazards.

It is illegal to read or compose text messages while operating a commercial truck, including using voice to text settings. Organizing and stowing distractions before setting off will decrease the need for trying to access them during travel.

Diane DeWitte is an Extension Educator specializing in swine for the University of Minnesota Extension. Her e-mail address is stouf002@umn.edu   

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