Marion Barnes, County Extension Agent, Clemson University
Anyone actively involved in farming can tell you about the hazards and risks encountered while providing the food, fiber, and fuel this country and the world depend on. Just as consumers sometimes overlook the important role farmers play in their lives, farmers often overlook the dangers of farming. Safety data (2019) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the agriculture sector continues to be the most dangerous in America, with 573 fatalities, or an equivalent of 23.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. For this reason, the third week in September has been recognized by the National Safety Council as National Farm Safety and Health Week, and promotional efforts are led by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS), the agricultural partner of the National Safety Council.
National Farm Safety and Health Week serves as a yearly reminder to the public and the agricultural industry of the dangers of working on a farm. The 2023 National Farm Safety and Health Week theme is No One Can Take Your Place. During the weeklong observation, various agricultural groups focus on different aspects of farm safety each day by recognizing common agricultural hazards. Just as our nation depends on farmers for food security, your family depends on you, the farm operator, for much more. If you are injured and unable to perform the everyday duties of a farmer, who would step up and take care of all the chores ranging from planting to harvest and everything in between? Farm safety should be a priority in every farming operation, just as important as soil fertility, pest control, and livestock management practices. Farm safety is one of the best investments any farmer can make. Recognizing and reducing or eliminating hazards and focusing on safety and health helps save lives and resources through the prevention of injuries and lost time on the job.
The following are tips for improving safety and health in your farming operation and ensuring “no one will need to take your place” due to a farming incident.
- Situational awareness– this term is often associated with public safety but also “fits” farm safety situations. Take the time to look around and inspect your farm for hazards because farmers and ranchers work around hazards daily and often take them for granted. Complacency can kill. Assess the risks you, family members, and employees face on the farm and take corrective action to eliminate them.
- Tractor and equipment safety– tractor overturns are the leading cause of fatal injuries on farms in the U.S. Modern tractors are equipped with numerous safety features, however many older models still in use do not have ROPS (rollover protection structures). ROPS can prevent injuries and fatalities during tractor rollovers and overturns if used correctly. If you own an older model tractor without a ROPS, consider installing this important piece of safety equipment. Contact your equipment dealer for information on retrofitting tractors with the correct ROPS. Review equipment operator manuals annually. The operator’s manual contains information on the safe operation of equipment.
- Dress for success– wearing the proper personal protection equipment (PPE) can reduce pesticide exposure when mixing, loading, or applying pesticides. Farmers spend long hours in the sun tending crops and livestock. Reduce exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays by wearing wide-brim hats (instead of baseball caps), long-sleeved shirts and pants, UVA, and UVB-blocking sunglasses, and apply sunscreen (often) when working outdoors in the sun. Monitor temperature and heat index ratings and dress accordingly when working during hot, humid conditions. Stay well hydrated and take frequent breaks. Avoid wearing loose clothing and jewelry when working around moving machinery parts. Tie back long hair and tuck in loose clothing to avoid entanglement hazards.
- Livestock safety – many farm injuries involve livestock. The most frequent injuries include being stepped on, knocked down, kicked, animal bites, and pinned between an animal and a hard surface. Never work livestock alone. When working in close quarters with livestock, always have an escape route. Bulls account for about 2 percent of the cattle population but are responsible for more than 50 percent of livestock-related worker fatalities. Never turn your back on a bull. Animals have strong maternal instincts, so take extra precautions around newborns. Take preventative measures to limit the transmission of zoonotic diseases from livestock to humans.
- Don’t neglect your health– on a good day, farming and ranching are stressful occupations. Unpredictable weather, uncertain commodity prices, regulations, equipment breakdowns, etc., all add to the stress farmers deal with daily. Pay attention to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Stressor signals are like warning lights on the control panel of your tractor; you may want to ignore them, but at some point, you will have to deal with them. Eat well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. Sleep deprivation and fatigue can lead to loss of dexterity, slow decision-making, and reaction time, all hazardous situations when operating machinery. Farmers and ranchers spend long hours working in the sun, increasing the incidence of skin cancer, cataracts, and other related health conditions. See your doctor or health care professional regularly, and don’t skip medical appointments. Remember, the most important asset of any agricultural operation is the health and wellness of the farm operator.
These are just a few of the many safety-related situations farmers and ranchers face. Developing a positive attitude about farm safety and taking steps to identify and eliminate agricultural hazards in your operation will ensure that no one has to take your place due to an injury or fatality. Let’s make our farms and ranches safer places for ourselves, our families, and our employees not only during National Farm Safety and Health Week but throughout the entire year.
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers 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.