The Dangers of Working Alone on the Farm

October 5, 2022

Marion Barnes, Senior County Extension Agent

The isolated nature of farming, which appeals to many, means that farmers are often working alone in remote locations. There are numerous hazards when working on the farm and they vary depending on the commodity. Some common dangers include tractors, implements, and other equipment, using hazardous chemicals, grain harvest and handling, slips, trips, and falls, and working with livestock just to name a few. These and other hazards can be dangerous to work around but when working alone the risk of injury and death increases.

What if you were injured when working alone and could not get help when you needed it? The outcome could be tragic. Yet this is the risk many farmers face each day. Unfortunately, many injuries suffered while working alone are due to human error; farmers not considering the various risk they face, or not taking the steps to avoid them and do the job safely. Changing how you think about working alone can help everyone go home safely at the end of the day.

In the course of a farmer’s day, there are many times they find themselves working alone whether it be planting, cultivating or harvesting crops, repairing equipment, or the numerous other tasks that are required to successfully operate a farm. Most equipment operations are solitary tasks, and the majority of farm injuries involve equipment, with tractors being the leading cause. There are certain situations in which farmers should never work alone, including working in confined spaces (grain bins), working with livestock, especially with large animals, working at heights (climbing ladders), and working in extreme heat to name a few. Each job should be assessed for the hazards involved and the need for additional assistance and safety precautions.

The keys to avoiding injury when working alone are to make plans ahead and to stay focused on the task.   Make a plan, set check-in times, check in regularly and let someone at home or on the farm know if the plan changes. Make safety part of your plan by including a first-aid kit and any personal protection equipment (PPE) needed to complete the job. Make safe choices and avoid doing anything risky to save time. Remember a “near miss” is a sign of a hazard that has not been addressed and hasn’t resulted in an injury….yet!

The vast majority of farmers these days carry cell phones; they can be life savers in an emergency. However, communication devices are just one part of an overall safety plan when working alone. Unfortunately, some rural areas have limited cellular service. Farmers should have a backup communication device in the event of a cellular failure. These range from newer technology such as

GPS-based tracking/ location devices to the old-school two-way radios. Wearing a smartwatch with built-in fall detection can help to alert emergency first responders in the event you are unable to reach your cell phone. Using a communication device with GPS features will also allow a faster emergency response. On the downside, these devices tend to be costly & many are subscription based, which may discourage their use. New technology is being developed to enhance incident detection and automatically alert emergency services.

Farming sometimes requires working in all types of weather conditions. When working alone be mindful of sudden changes in the weather. Always check the local forecast for the day before heading out. If clouds roll in and the wind picks up, having a weather app on your communication device can alert you to hazardous weather conditions.

Many tasks on the farm require working alone. Working solo especially in remote locations increases the risk of injuries. One of the major risks of working alone is the delay between the incident happening and help arriving. In emergencies, seconds count! Working with someone may not necessarily guarantee injuries will not happen but at least you have someone close at hand in case something goes wrong. For more information on the farm, safety contact your local Clemson Extension office.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status, and is an equal opportunity employer.