Safety Is Everybody’s Job in Northeast Ag Class

Published on: August 27, 2019

NORFOLK, NE – Agriculture is the most dangerous industry in the nation, according to the National Safety Council. Fatality and serious injury rates run high.

Human error is a factor, as well as the abundant workplace hazards – from cantankerous cows to toxic chemicals to underground manure pits and overhead power lines. Consequences may include drowning, electrocution, suffocation, loss of limbs and pulmonary diseases.

Since 1999, Michael Zierke has taught about ag industry hazards, as well as safe work practices, to students enrolled in the Farm and Environmental Safety class at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. He and his students plow through a more than 450-page textbook during the two-credit, semester-long course. The course is required for agricultural majors obtaining an associate’s degree from Northeast.

The 13 chapters in the “Farm and Ranch Safety Management” textbook, published by Deere & Company, cover hundreds of ag-related safety topics. Included are hand and power tools; grain and livestock dust; silo and manure pit gasses; grain storage; livestock and a wide range of machinery.

Zierke emphasizes that “safety is everybody’s job. Be your own safety director. Lives change in just seconds of time because of accidents.”

Special emphasis is paid to the agricultural industry during National Ag Month in March and especially during National Ag Week. It’s a good reminder for the rural sector to “think safety in all they do,” Zierke said.  “Safety should always be a farmer’s or rancher’s first concern for themselves and their families.”

Zierke, a mechanized agriculture instructor, grew up on a Pierce farm and resides on a Pierce County acreage.

“Having a farm background, I can bring real-life situations into the classroom,” he said. “I can tell them about my near misses with both livestock and machinery.”

Zierke added: “I think my students respect what I’m teaching because of my experiences. I’ve not only had farm experience, but I’d also worked a factory job (previously). I’m able to bring farm and industry into the classroom.”

“In teaching the classes, it’s made me think about my own safety, especially with my teen-age daughter watching what I do,” Zierke said. “That’s one of the things I emphasize to my students, that what they do, their younger family members or friends may try to do themselves even though they’re not physically or mentally capable of doing it.”

Zierke said he typically devotes seven class periods to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid.

Accidents can be traumatic and life changing.

When working on farm and ranch tasks, Zierke said, “Take more time. Think about what you’re going to do before you do it. (An accident) is not worth getting in a hurry.”

He also offered the following ag safety-related tips:

  • Read the operator manual
  • Wear appropriate clothing
  • Set boundaries for younger family members, such as assigning age-appropriate tasks
  • Wear such personal protective equipment as helmets and masks when needed
  • Devote a separate washing machine to launder chemical-contaminated clothing
  • Pay attention to chemical labels for your personal safety and those around you
  • Understand workplace hazards
  • When working with livestock, always have your guard on

Funding for the$23 million project is currently being solicited to enhance and expand the agriculture facilities at Northeast Community College. In addition to the College’s commitment of $10 million, Northeast is seeking at least $13 million in private funds to begin the initial phase of construction, which includes a new farm site with a farm office and storage, a large animal handling facility and other farm structures for livestock operations, and a new veterinary technology clinic and classrooms. The new facilities will be located near the Chuck Pohlman Ag Complex on East Benjamin Avenue.

For more information, contact Northeast Community College Associate Vice President of Development and External Affairs Dr. Tracy Kruse,, 402-844-7056. Online donations can be made through the website Checks can be mailed to: Nexus Campaign, Northeast Community College Foundation, P.O. Box 469, Norfolk, NE 68702-0469.

Photo Cutline – Zierke

Instructor Michael Zierke (center) and student Michael Mensik (right), North Bend, observe as another student, Colby Lange, Crofton, practices cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) using a bag ventilator that forces air into lungs. (Courtesy Northeast Community College)