Savannah Valley District

National Farm Safety and Health Week- September 18 -24, 2022- Protecting Agriculture’s Future

Marion Barnes, County Extension Agent, Clemson University

Since 1944, the third week of September has been recognized as National Farm Safety and 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 that the agricultural sector is still the most dangerous in America, with 573 fatalities or an equivalent of 23 deaths per 100,000 workers. This year’s theme is Protecting Agricultures Future.

No matter the season or type of operation, farmers work in hazardous environments. Increasing farmers and agricultural workers’ knowledge about the hazards and risks can help them make better choices and change practices, hopefully leading to fewer injuries and fatalities. Agriculture is different from other industries in that it can present hazards to individuals not actively involved in the industry, such as family members, visitors, and workers. Protecting agriculture’s future begins with making our farms and ranches safer places to live and work.

Some of the chronic and acute health risks farmers and farm workers are faced with include:

  • Exposure to farm chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Exposure to high levels of dust, which may contain mold and bacteria.
  • Falls from farm equipment, grain bins, ladders, or other heights.
  • Excessive exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays can result in skin cancer.
  • Exposure to loud noises can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
  • Joint and ligament injuries can lead to arthritic conditions affecting mobility.
  • Mental health concerns result from stress due to weather, working long hours, pests and disease infestations of crops and livestock, financial concerns, etc.
  • Risk of injury from operating equipment and machinery.
  • Hazards associated with working with livestock.

These are just a few of the many hazards that can be found on farms and ranches. Raising awareness of farm safety issues and preventing and reducing injuries and fatalities begins with having the proper attitude about farm safety. As a farm owner, setting a good example for employees and family members regarding safety can go a long way in reducing risks and hazards on your farm. Being a role model for safe behavior is essential, especially for children and youth who reside or work on our farms. According to the best data available on childhood agricultural injuries, approximately 33 children are injured in agricultural-related incidents each day in the United States (National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety Report 2020 Fact Sheet). Parents must teach and encourage the importance of safe farming practices for their children, who are the future of agriculture.


Depending on the severity, agricultural injuries usually mean lost time from work. For a farmer, this can result in crops not being planted, tended, or harvested on time, livestock not adequately cared for, or the hundreds of other daily chores farmers are responsible for. Time lost at the ER and doctor’s office seeking medical care for ag-related injuries and recovery time is costly.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is certainly true when it comes to farm safety. Most, if not all, agricultural injuries and fatalities are preventable when you follow safe operating practices. The following are some general guidelines and tips:

Proper attire:

Loose-fitting clothing can become entangled in gears, pulleys, rotating shafts, and sharp edges. As a precaution, wear properly fitting clothing; keep shirts tucked in and cuffs buttoned. Remove loose jewelry and keep long hair under a cap, hat, or head covering.

Power take-off safety (PTO)

  • PTO drive lines can pose extreme hazards. Although today’s equipment has appropriate guards and shielding, older machines may lack proper safety guards. Replace missing or damaged PTO guards before operating the equipment.
  • ALWAYS disengage the PTO, stop the tractor engine, and remove the key before leaving the operator’s seat.
  • ALWAYS walk around tractors and machinery and never step over a rotating PTO driveline shaft.
  • PTO entanglements are a significant cause of severe injury and fatalities and most often involve the equipment operator.

Livestock handling precautions

  • Livestock is unpredictable and can be dangerous if not respected. Cattle with almost 360-degree panoramic vision are spooked easily by shadows, loud noises, and unfamiliar objects. Work them slowly, calmly, and deliberately.
  • Know and respect the animal’s flight zone and blind spot.
  • Remember, animals are usually more aggressive when protecting their young.
  • Always leave an escape route when working livestock in close quarters.
  • ALWAYS use extreme caution when working bulls.
  • Needle sticks are a common source of injury in livestock operations. Accidental injections of certain livestock medications pose potential risks ranging from local irritation to severe reactions that can affect the entire body and even death in some cases.

Tractor safety

  • Tractors are the leading cause of fatalities on farms, with side and rear overturns being the most frequent cause of tractor-related deaths.
  • One in ten tractor operators will overturn a tractor in their lifetime and 80 percent of fatalities caused by rollovers happen to experienced farmers.
  • Rollover protection structures (ROPS) are designed to provide a protected space in case of a rollover/ overturn and are 99 percent effective in preventing severe injury or death when used with a seatbelt.
  • ALWAYS wear your safety belt on equipment that has a ROPS structure. DO NOT wear a safety belt if the equipment has no ROPS structure.
  • Read the operator’s manual before operating the equipment. Make sure anyone operating a tractor or other equipment is adequately trained and recognize that youths may lack experience or judgment skills and require additional training and supervision.
  • Conduct pre-operational safety checks before each equipment use.

Roadway & Transportation Safety

  • Operating tractors and slow-moving farm equipment on public roadways are becoming increasingly hazardous as rural populations increase and traffic congestion on roadways grows.
  • Two common causes of vehicle/ farm equipment crashes include rear-end collisions and motorists attempting to pass slow-moving farm vehicles.
  • Make sure all lighting and warning flashers are working properly, and motorists can easily see SMV emblems.
  • Avoid traveling before dawn and after dusk and when possible, avoid traveling during periods of high traffic congestion.
  • Consider using pilot/ escort vehicles to accompany (lead the way and/or follow) tractors and other slow-moving farm equipment during travel on roadways.
  • Lock brake pedals together to ensure adequate braking for road travel. Consult operator’s manual for other safe operating procedures.
  • When towing equipment, ensure the load is balanced, properly secured, and the tractor is large enough to safely stop the load.
  • Obey all traffic laws, be mindful of motorists and remember courtesy is a critical component of roadway safety.

Safe farming practices should be a top priority, not an afterthought. Many farmers are happy to invest in land, livestock, and machinery but are often reluctant to invest in the things that will improve the safety of their operations. The simple fact is that many of the measures that can be taken to make the job safer don’t cost a penny. Many farm injuries and fatalities happen because work is not adequately planned, risks are not recognized, proper precautions are not taken, or equipment is misused. Let’s protect the agriculture future by making our farms and ranches safer places to live and work!

For more information on farm safety, contact your local Clemson Extension Service.

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, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.