Each year since 1944, the third week of September has been recognized as National Farm Safety & Health Week. This recognition was initiated by the National Safety Council and has been proclaimed by each sitting U.S. President since Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first document. National Farm Safety and Health Week is intended to remind rural communities that agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in this country and farm injuries and fatalities are preventable. The most recent data (2019) from the U.S. Department of Labor indicates the agricultural sector is still the most dangerous in America with 573 fatalities or an equivalent of 23.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. This year’s theme is, Farm Safety Yields Real Results. Those promoting farm safety know that education is a key component in reducing injuries and fatalities on farms. Getting the proper message about safe farming practices to farmers is challenging but can yield real results.
Understanding the dangers on and around the farm can make hazards easier to recognize and avoid, therefore less likely to occur. Some of the most common causes of injuries and fatalities on farms are tractors and machinery, livestock, and falls. Farmers are exposed to these as well as numerous other risks on a daily basis. One question we all need to ask ourselves is, “What can I do to improve safety on my farm?” We can start by increasing safety awareness and making a conscious decision to prepare for emergency situations that may potentially arise on our farms. Pay particular attention to hazards that may affect children, less experienced workers, and senior farmers. For example, if you have young children on the farm, do they have a safe and secure play area away from farming activities? Children are vulnerable to many of the same hazards as adults who live and work on farms but are far less capable of understanding those hazards. Although farm parents cannot completely child-proof a farm they need to make it safe as possible.
Each summer many youths seek employment on our nation’s farms and ranches. Although some live and work on farms, youths are usually less experienced with many of the chores and activities they are tasked to complete. Balanced against the positives of youth working on farms (such as the development of work ethics and self-esteem, earned money) there are serious safety risks. If you have youths working on your farm make sure they are knowledgeable of safe farming practices and properly trained in the activities they will be performing, whether it is operating a piece of equipment or working with livestock. Take time to point out the hazards and discuss proper operating procedures. The National Children’s Center of Rural and Agriculture Safety and Health has released a set of guidelines to help determine if a youth is ready to perform a job and ready to learn more about hazards and keeping working youth safe. These guidelines can be found on Cultivate Safety’s website.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), when it comes to work-related injuries, older workers are at a disadvantage compared to their younger counterparts because older workers are more susceptible to injuries and typically require longer recuperation periods (NIOSH 2009). Senior farmers are typically at higher risk for work-related injuries and fatalities due to the effects of the aging process. Senior farmers and workers may face challenges in areas such as reduced reaction times, changes in cognition levels, decreased visual keenness and perception, and hearing loss. At some point and time these and other age-related challenges can affect the work seniors farmers can do safely. Agricultural producers and family members may need to consider ways of making adjustments and modifications to better accommodate the needs of their senior farmers.
Farm safety is a fundamental part of farm management and should not be overlooked. A person’s attitude toward farm safety plays an important role in injury prevention. Farmers and livestock producers are often pressed for time due to weather, equipment breakdowns, and other delays, especially during planting and harvest season. Taking shortcuts or being in a hurry can lead to injuries. Being aware of the hazard and focusing on the task at hand is a simple yet important part of farm safety. When it comes to farm safety, setting a good example will go a long way with family members and workers. Completing tasks in a safe manner may take a little extra time and effort but in the long run, it will pay dividends if a hazard is eliminated or an injury prevented. This is especially true when working with youths and less experienced workers. They are looking to you for guidance and performing tasks safely is an important part of their training. An example would be always using three points of contact when mounting and dismounting tractors and other equipment. This simple procedure, when performed correctly can eliminate injuries from falls.
Are you, your family, or your workers prepared to handle an emergency situation on your farm? Most farmers are counting on never having an emergency situation or calling 911 in case they do. An emergency response plan is a road map for how to address a broad range of emergencies or disasters you may face on your farm. A comprehensive plan identifies key people, their responsibilities, evacuation routes if necessary, emergency contacts and communication during an emergency, response, and recovery. Simply put…. the best plan is to have a plan. In an emergency or disaster, seconds count. Having a well throughout emergency response plan can save lives. Taking the time to sit down with family members and workers to develop a farm safety emergency and disaster response plan can yield real results. Developing a safer lifestyle on the farm is not an easy task. Changing old habits and attitudes takes time and determination. Let’s make it a point during National Farm Safety and Health Week this year to take a closer look at our farming operations and try and improve our safety practices and incorporate them into our daily activities. Remember, Farm Safety Yields Real Results!
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