Farming and construction both rank among the most likely occupations in which Americans can be killed on the job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Twenty-six out of every 100,000 farmers died of a workplace injury in 2014, the sixth-highest rate of any profession.
"Famers are exposed to hazardous materials, uneven planting territory, large animals, heavy machinery, and biological contaminants," said Bruce Alexander, the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center director. "Every farm is different, and the environment changes by the season."
Spring planting and fall harvest seasons are busy times to be on a farm, said Dan Neenan, National Education Center for Agricultural Safety manager. "The accelerated schedule leads to long hours and an increased risk of injury."
Experts say many fatalities can be avoided if workers follow basic construction and farming safety precautions.
Neenan said farmers should take time to do maintenance on equipment before spring. "They should assess safety on the equipment as well, such as lighting, marking worn pieces of equipment that may fail at the busiest time of year, making sure that all machinery guarding is in place over moving equipment, and looking at power take off (PTO) safety shields."
In addition, Alexander said all systems need to be shut off when working on equipment.
Don’t bypass safety systems
"In maintenance mode, farmers are doing things they don’t routinely do, which is a potential risk for an injury, like on their backs or dropping heavy things on their toes. There’s a lot of technology built in machinery to keep farmers safe, like auto shut offs and switches. One of the temptations is to bypass the system for efficiency. They may be cumbersome, but they are there for a reason."
Alexander also suggests farmers check out their fields before working in them, as they may have runoff and erosion, which might cause a piece of machinery to tip.
And when using roads, Alexander reminds farmers to be mindful of other motorists. Driving on roadways at daylight or dusk can present visibility issues.
"Machinery is getting larger while roads are not," he said. "When traveling on the road, be mindful of other cars. Make sure your machinery is well-marked, especially in low-light and foggy conditions."
Create a safety plan
Alexander said to account for physical condition as well. Children and elderly are most at risk for injuries.
"When we get older and lift heavy things, we’re at a greater risk at incurring injury. Be aware of the physical condition you’re in and be cautious."
Neenan agreed. "Children are curious and around large equipment," Neenan said. "The Marshfield Children’s Center data shows that every day 33 children are injured on a farm and a child dies on the farm every three days. Elderly farmers work past retirement age and may have health issues that can cause issues."
Finally, create a safety plan for hazards on the farm.
"If you have more than one farm, write down the physical address and 911 address, copy it, and put in all vehicles that travel from farm to farm," Neenan said. "If you take medicine dependent on eating food, make sure you take rest breaks. Get something to eat or your medicines will not work as prescribed. Have working fire extinguishers present and first aid kits located in different areas of the farm, like in the workshop, tractor, and combine."
Kort is a freelance writer in Ankeny.