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Good Health And Safety Make $en$e

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:15pm

Matt Heitz learned years ago that routine combine maintenance prior to harvest prevents downtime.

Heitz also found out that 37 years of squealing hogs and searing sun takes its toll, too. Preventive checkups and screening tests keep the 55-year-old Farley, Iowa, farmer firing on all cylinders. Like regular tune-ups, he sees medical exams as a cost of doing business.

"I have my blood pressure checked regularly," he says. "I usually wear ear protection, respirators, and sunscreen."

Traditionally, health and safety have taken a backseat to machinery maintenance. But a growing number of farmers like Heitz say that maintaining health and safety makes good business sense.

Kelley Donham, right, director of Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, says that it's vital to business success. He cites Andrew Savitz's 2006 book, The Triple Bottom Line.

"Providing a safe and healthy work situation is a critical component of maintaining the human capital of business," Donham says. "To be sustainable, the human capital, environmental, and financial bottom line must be linked."

It's also a risk-management strategy and a blueprint for lower insurance rates. But in 2008, there were 651 deaths and another 88,000 disabling injuries or lost worktime injuries on U.S. farms. Inadequate preventive health insurance and medical providers unfamiliar with agricultural occupational diseases remain weak links in the chain.

Charlotte Halverson, right, an occupational health nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Dubuque, Iowa, spent years working in critical care. "I saw so many devastating farm injuries," she says. "I wanted to dig deeper to find what more could be done."

Today she provides AgriSafe health screening services directly to Heitz and other farmers at the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta.

"A key part of farm safety is personal health," she says. "A farmer's health is the operation's greatest asset. If it's jeopardized by a chronic illness, the well-being of the farm is put at risk."

Located in 17 states, the nonprofit AgriSafe Network targets hearing, blood pressure, lung function, cholesterol, skin cancer, blood sugar, and vision. It offers continuing education on ag health to medical providers and sells personal protective equipment (PPE). "Farmers like Matt Heitz are our best advocates," Halverson says. "He sends other farmers here for help. We make sure they're getting the best fit and using the right PPE for the job."

Matt Heitz learned years ago that routine combine maintenance prior to harvest prevents downtime.

After three decades of declines, Indiana's farm fatalities rose last year for the second consecutive year. The National Safety Council estimates that 2% of reported farm injuries cause permanent disability.

Technology has eased the physical wear and tear of many tasks. But repetitive chores remain, and improper body mechanics exact a toll on knees, backs, and hips. So does expanded body girth. Every excess pound adds 3 pounds of stress to knees and 6 pounds of stress to hips.

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