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A healthy game plan
Think of it as spring training. You're a member of the farm team, and you have eight weeks until the season opener (also known as planting). Here's your game plan:
• Work out weekly for 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, along with resistance and flexibility training.
• Retool your food choices and portion sizes for maximum efficiency.
• Scout your work site for hazards that could sideline you for the season.
If this isn't your strategy, you may be caught off base. Plugging health and safety into your risk-management plan could help propel you into the big leagues.
Stories Behind The Statistics
Generations of farmers have pursued their livelihoods at the cost of being safe — and sound. Today's increased mechanization and high-mileage commutes are converging with farm health risks and sedentary lifestyles. For many producers, it's a whole new ball game.
Fortunately, there are more resources now than ever before. The AgriSafe Network and Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health work together to provide health and safety services to farmers through a Certified Safe Farm Program, as well as training and education for health care professionals.
North Carolina's Certified Safe Farm (CSF) pilot program began in 2009. So far, 45 to 50 farm audits have been conducted.
“It offers a fresh set of eyes on farms,” says Julia Storm, North Carolina AgroMedicine Institute and North Carolina State University, Raleigh. “Too often hazards blend into the scenery.”
Tim Britton, Johnston County (North Carolina) Extension field crops agent keeps his eyes and ears open as he visits farms. “As I walk the farms with growers, I've heard so many stories about their close calls or a brother or father who got a hand caught in a PTO shaft,” he says.
Ray Boswell, Selma, North Carolina, enrolled in CSF. “My father-in-law checked on a squealing harvester bearing and his pants leg was caught,” he says. “It was a close call.”
Britton says, “We all get into habits of doing things. Safety is a habit. We can't create a mind-set in one visit, but farmers start noticing their unsafe habits.”
Health is about habits, too. Farmers risk a bumper crop of occupational health hazards, including hearing loss, skin cancer, and respiratory diseases.
“Safety is only one part,” says Carolyn Sheridan, AgriSafe Network clinical director and Spencer (Iowa) Hospital AgriSafe director. “Farmers need to be aware of chronic diseases and conditions.”
Craig Woodford farmed with his dad near Greenville, Iowa, until 1990, when his dad lost a 10-year battle with melanoma. Recently he has been reminded of the fine line between health and safety.
“During harvest I climbed out of the tractor and missed the first step,” Woodford says. “I hung onto the grab bar with my left arm, and I strained it.”
The injury set back Woodford's plan to swim for exercise. He scheduled an AgriSafe screening and one-on-one sessions with a fitness trainer and dietician at Spencer Hospital. Successful Farming magazine picked up the tab.
Safety and health also are about risk. Seasonal constraints, stoicism, and tight margins create a risk-tolerant culture.
Managing business risk is a priority for farmers. Properly managed, a producer's health and safety are fundamental assets to the bottom line of the business.