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Putting Farm Safety Into Practice

That’s the theme of this year’s National Farm Safety and Health Week.

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation for a recognition week dedicated to farm safety, bringing attention to the hazards and risks of farming. This was especially important at the time because the high injury rate in agriculture was taking its toll on the war effort.

Every president since Roosevelt has kept the tradition of farm safety alive by signing a proclamation for what is now called National Farm Safety and Health Week. Despite this focus for 73 years, agriculture is still one of the most dangerous industries.

In 2015, 401 farmers and farmworkers died from a work-related injury, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This equates to a fatality rate of 19.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. 

“The numbers are moving in the right direction, but we won’t reach zero during my lifetime,” says Dan Neenan, the director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) and a paramedic. NECAS provides safety programming for ranchers, farmers, and agribusiness personnel as well as training for rural emergency medical services (EMS) and firefighters. The farm safety organization also coordinates the activities for National Farm Safety and Health Week, which runs from September 17 to 23 this year.

Here’s the rundown for the week with the focus for each day.

  • Monday, September 18: Tractor Safety
  • Tuesday, September 19: Farmer Health
  • Wednesday, September 20: Children and Youth Health and Safety
  • Thursday, September 21: Confined Spaces
  • Friday, September 22: Rural Roadway Safety

On each day, the National Farm Safety and Health Week website will have safety advice on that topic as well as a webinar. Following is a sneak peek of the advice for each day.

Tractor Safety

Tractor overturns and transportation incidents are the leading causes of death for farmers, according to NIOSH. Installing roll-over protective structures (ROPS) is the most effective way to prevent overturns. 

If you have a tractor that needs a ROPS, there is a National ROPS Rebate Program that provides about 70% of the cost of purchasing and installing a ROPS kit. The rebate is available in New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. Learn more at ropsr4u.com.

In addition to rollovers, farmers should also take preventive measures to reduce runovers and PTO entanglements. 

Bypass starting is a tempting shortcut when there is an issue with a tractor’s neutral-start switch. By touching a wrench or screwdriver to the terminals of the starter motor or to the solenoid of a tractor, you can bypass a tractor’s safety-start and neutral-start switches. However, this becomes a safety concern when the tractor is in gear. “When the starter is in front of the rear tire, this can result in someone being run over,” warns Neenan. 

Avoid this hazardous shortcut by remembering that this short-term fix can have devastating results. Take the time to fix any mechanical issues. 

Last for tractor safety, check your PTO shields on tractors and implements, making sure they are on and in good repair. “Never step over the top of a PTO; always walk around the implement,” reminds Neenan. “If you get caught in a PTO, at a minimum, it will be broken bones. At a maximum, it could take your life.”

Farmer Health

“Whenever I talk to a group of farmers, I always ask, ‘How many know a farmer who is missing some fingers? How many know a farmer hard of hearing? How many know an older farmer on oxygen?’ ” says Neenan. “Hands always go up, but these are things that can be prevented if farmers wear personal protective equipment.”

Following is a listing of recommended equipment.

  • Hearing protection. Wear earplugs or earmuffs when you’re exposed to loud noise. Keep your choice of protection with you, so it’s easy to use. Take steps to reduce equipment noise by keeping equipment well maintained and replacing worn or loose parts. When possible, limit your exposure.
  • Eye protection. Wear safety glasses when you’re doing work where flying particles could cause eye damage, including grinding feed, handling chemicals, drilling, grinding, etc.  
  • Respirators. Identify the respiratory hazard for the task at hand, particulate contaminants, gases and vapors, or oxygen deficiency, and wear the recommended respirator, which may include a dust mask, air purifying respirator, or supplied air respirator. 

In addition to physical health, NECAS will also cover mental health. Suicide rates for workers in ag, fishing, and forestry are the highest of any other occupational group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2016, the CDC released a report on suicides by occupation taken from data collected in 2012. For ag and related industries, the CDC found 84.5 suicides per 100,000 people. The rate for the average population that year was 16.1 per 100,000 people.

The report stated factors that might contribute to suicide include “social isolation, potential for financial losses, barriers to and unwillingness to seek mental health services, and access to lethal means.”

Mental health counselors will be available for farmers to talk to during this day of farm safety week. Neenan also recommends looking for changes in behavior and keeping an open conversation. “When there are financial difficulties, a farmer might keep it from a spouse. But it’s the time to have a conversation, talk with one another, and be a support system,” he says.

Children and Youth health and Safety

About 110 youth under the age of 20 die each year from farm-related injuries, according to data collected from NIOSH from 1995 to 2002. The leading causes of death are machinery, motor vehicles and ATVs, and drowning.

The Progressive Agriculture Foundation will be taking the lead on information, webinars, and events on child safety during farm safety week. The foundation provides education, training, and resources to make farm life safer and healthier for children. One area that will be covered during the week is creating safe play areas. 

“Kids are quick and can get into dangerous areas on the farmstead. This is why we talk about the importance of safe play areas indoors or fenced in,” says Neenan.

Confined Spaces

The main topics for Thursday will be grain bin entry and manure pit entry. 

Grain bin safety is a key topic for harvest because the condition of grain when it’s put into storage can impact farmer safety the following year, as entrapment can occur when farmers are dealing with out-of-condition grain. 

Think about how long you’d like to store your corn now while you’re still harvesting and drying grain. Corn should be dried down to 15% moisture if you plan on storing until June 1, 14% through the following harvest, and 13% to store for a year or longer, according to Gary Woodruff, GSI.

Rural Roadway Safety

Accidents between passenger and farm vehicles are a two-tiered issue, and NECAS works to address both sides. 

“From the farmer side, we stress using turn signals and looking behind you before you make a left-hand turn,” says Neenan. 

For passengers, the group emphasizes caution and watching for slow-moving vehicles.

“Farmers have the right to be on the roadway. Getting behind an implement will just be like sitting behind a couple stop signs. Give yourself more time,” adds Neenan. “In the end, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong if someone is hurt or killed.”

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