LAKE PLACID - A sign outside the Lykes offices in Lake Placid reads, "Your safety gear is between your ears." It's a slogan that an employee came up with as part of a safety campaign administered by Sarah Childs, environmental and safety coordinator for the company's local operations.
All around her office are other bits of evidence that Childs is in charge of workers' safety. Rolls of safety stickers and a handful of red biohazard boxes are stacked on her bookshelf. The boxes are now used to safely dispose of sharps on ranches when cattle are being injected. Before, the needles often ended up on the ground, said Childs.
The company began focusing on lowering the number of injuries and "near misses" in 1994, said Childs. "The process is an ongoing one," she stated.
She's been chairman of a group of representatives from the ranch and citrus divisions as well as human resources who are focused on safety.
They look at accidents or injuries that occur and how they can be prevented in the future, said Childs. "Sometimes we change the way we do things. Sometimes they adjust a piece of equipment," she added.
She pointed out a raised platform that was designed to help mechanics work on tall, heavy machinery. The platform gives the workers a steady, flat surface to stand on if they need to work on a part of the equipment that is several feet off the ground.
"It works," she said of the safety initiative. "Accidents have been reduced tremendously since 1994."
Childs has worked with Lykes since 1994 and was assistant manager at Buck Island Ranch for over 20 years before that. But Childs didn't grow up in ranching.
She was raised in Illinois and went to college in Colorado, graduating as a physical education major with a minor in business. She only taught P.E. for a year, however. After marrying into the ranching lifestyle, she quickly realized that was the life she preferred.
She began working at Buck Island in 1970 with her husband and father-in-law, and since it was all new to her, Childs learned on the job and through reading and research.
"We got 10 to 15 ag-related magazines a month," Childs recalled, adding, "I did a lot of observing the first couple of years."
But she wasn't on the sidelines for long. She began attending every IFAS seminar, beef show, and education opportunity she could. She also became heavily involved with industry organizations. She joined the Florida cattlewomen in 1976 when they were called the Florida CowBelles and was president in 1982. She also served as president of the Florida cattlewomen in 2008, president of the Highlands County cattlewomen for "many, many years" and president of the Highlands County cattlemen's association.
She has also served as president of the Florida Range Society and the Florida Hereford Association.
Her longtime service was celebrated in 2011 when she received the Woman of the Year in Agriculture Award, which now hangs on her office wall. "It was very nice to be recognized by our peers in the industry," Childs said humbly.
These days, Childs also stays busy as a member of the Beef Board. "I am one of two cattlemen from Florida representing the beef industry," Childs explained. She was elected in January 2012 and will serve a three-year term.
The Beef Board is widely known for the Beef Checkoff program, which adds a $1 fee to the sale or transfer of cattle. These funds are used for marketing and other methods to increase beef consumption and sales. Many consumers have heard of the "Beef, it's what's for dinner" slogan, which was funded by the program.
"With proper nutrition and proper exercise, beef is healthy for you," explained Childs, who likes her ribeye cut medium rare without any seasoning and is a fan of hamburgers, too. She added that a serving of beef should be only three ounces, about half the size of your palm. It may not seem like enough, but it's enough, she affirmed.
While she doesn't get to use her P.E. degree very much these days, this avid reader and gardener doesn't regret it. She's happy she got to raise her son and daughter in a ranching lifestyle and work at something she really loves.
"I have been very lucky. Most of my adult life i have worked a job that I truly enjoy going to every single day. I don't think there are many people who are able to say that," she said with a smile.