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Stay safe and sound

Covering the bases

During the off-season, you're likely to find Ray Boswell busy with machinery maintenance and repairs. “It saves downtime in the long haul,” he says.


Earlier this winter, the Selma, North Carolina, farmer pushed his maintenance schedule into full throttle by enrolling in the Certified Safe Farm (CSF) pilot program.

Boswell, 43, grows 200 acres of tobacco and 1,300 acres of soybeans. He has one full-time employee and about 20 seasonal workers.

“Safety often falls to the bottom of the to-do list,” he says. “I want my employees to have a safe environment. I also have a lot of money tied up in equipment and sheds.”

Johnston County Extension field crops agent Tim Britton and Dan Wells, livestock agent, conducted the CSF survey.

Boswell says the results offered him one obvious takeaway.

“My number one step is to buy more fire extinguishers,” he says. “A neighbor recently had a fire. It could happen to anyone. I have one 300-foot building, and I need the extinguishers in plain sight. I need to make sure the employees can operate one.”

Britton says CSF surveys typically reveal cracked hydraulic hoses, missing shields, lack of roll bars, and inadequate equipment lighting.

“We look closely at hydraulic hoses on all equipment,” he says. “A cracked and brittle hose can release up to 3,000 psi, shooting a stream of hydraulic oil into your hand.”

Overall, Britton says Boswell's score was very high. One shield had been removed from his combine.

“Removing it to replace a belt is aggravating,” Boswell says. “I wish someone would come up with a good safety latch that pulls easily. But the shield is going back on.”

Some hazards turn farmers into a moving target when they take farm equipment on the roads. Boswell travels to 45 farms.

“Driving farm equipment on roads has become more dangerous the past 10 to 15 years,” he says. “Our smaller farms require a lot of trips. If I'm involved in a traffic incident and my equipment doesn't have adequate lighting or signals, I may be the one in trouble.”

Slips, trips, and falls often are tied to habits. When Boswell climbed off his John Deere 6000 sprayer facing forward, Britton told him the grab bars would not help him if he tripped.

“I've done it that way without thinking about it since I was a teenager,” Boswell says.

Britton encourages farmers in the three counties to schedule a CSF survey. Surveys also are available in Alabama, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Safety hot spots


Team Safety


Top 10 safety improvements


Get plugged up


2007-2009 Fatal incidents by category as % of total


Bottom-line safety

Risk is defined as “the chance of an unforeseen and usually adverse outcome.” Agriculture raises a big crop of red flags. Farmers are at a high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries involving machinery, work-related respiratory diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with prolonged sun exposure, according to the 2009 USDA Farm and Rural Populations Report.

One factor is the increasing average age of farmers. About 60% of all farm operators are age 55 or older. The fatal injury rate for farmers age 55 and older from 1995 to 2002 was almost twice the rate for younger ag workers.

Older tractors and older operators often are a fatal combination. Only half of tractors on U.S. farms are equipped with ROPS and seat belts. To search for an updated listing of available ROPS to retrofit older tractors, visit New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa, and Virginia offer rebate programs to retrofit tractors.

Of all farm injuries, 17% involve animals. That's equal to the number of injuries by farm machinery. Purdue University research reveals that 73% of victims were over age 50. A 2007 University of Iowa study indicates that arthritis or use of a hearing aid were associated with animal injuries.

Grain bin fatalities also have been on the rise since 2009, as farmers add more on-farm storage, and weather conditions contribute to moldy grain.

“When we started, I worried farmers would take our recommendations the wrong way,” says Tim Britton, Johnston County Extension field crops agent and a trained North Carolina Certified Safe Farm (CSF) auditor. “But they're receptive. In some cases, we're seeing the end results when they remove hazards.”

Julia Storm says the North Carolina program recently obtained cost-sharing funds from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund, the CSF funder. “We're reviewing our first round of farmer applications,” she says.

Other voluntary farm safety hazard audits include:

• New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health's on-farm safety trainings and surveys. Call 800/343-7527 or visit

• Pennsylvania State University's FARM-HAT (Farm/Agriculture/Rural Management Hazard Analysis Tool). Visit

If liability concerns, economic repercussions, and downtime don't persuade farmers to improve safety, Britton says making the investment in human assets is a powerful incentive.

“One grower was on the road in his tractor when he was rear-ended,” Britton says. “Afterwards, he mounted flashers on top of his cab. He said he did it for the sake of his family to make sure they're safer.”

Ready to get on deck


Craig Woodford is an easygoing guy who likes to kid around. “I try not to take myself too seriously,” he says.

But when it comes to maintaining his good health, the 59-year-old Greenville, Iowa, grain farmer knows it's a matter of life and death.

“I remember my dad telling me the most important thing in life is your health,” he says. “Without it, you don't have quality of life. But when you're younger, you take your health for granted. You hear the warnings, but they don't register.”

After harvest last year, Woodford began to take stock. His 6-foot frame was carrying 233 pounds. He wanted to lose weight, keep an eye on his blood pressure, and figure out how to exercise with a strained rotator cuff.

So he signed up for an AgriSafe occupational health screening and wellness exam at Spencer Hospital.

His first step was a lung function test. Farmers' exposure to molds and dusts makes this an occupational hazard. “I used to raise hogs, and I noticed after quitting that I had fewer colds and respiratory infections,” Woodford says.

“I have a friend who farms, and he got sick from mold in the bin,” he adds. “He was on steroids and oxygen for a while. It's important to wear a mask in the bin.”

He says, “The lung-function test was easy and quick.”

Next was a hearing test. Hearing loss is not simply a function of old age. Farmers suffer hearing loss from exposure to equipment and livestock noises above 90 decibels.

“My left ear wasn't as good as it should be,” he says. His hearing protection options include earplugs, muffs, and canal caps. (See diagram below left for proper use.)

Skin cancer screening is a priority for Woodford, who uses sunscreen.

In addition to occupational health screenings, he scheduled several sessions with Jason Trierweiler. Trierweiler's exercise prescription includes resistance, cardiovascular, and flexibility training at the hospital athletic center, YMCA, and at home.

“He's shown me a lot of helpful things I can do at home without equipment,” Woodford says. “I can stretch my legs while I'm waiting for the wagon to fill.”

His biggest challenge is following dietician Lindsey DeWall's advice. “I don't eat much fast food,” he says. “But I'm learning to measure servings and not just help myself from a container. I need to be conscious of portion sizes.”

He concludes, “Once I reach my goals, I need to maintain my commitment. I need to figure out how to enjoy what I've been doing to stay healthy. The older I get, the more important it is to monitor my health,” he says.

Winter workout


Team health


Metabol syndrome


Serving size at hand


Bottom-line health

Individual behavior and lifestyle play a critical role in chronic diseases. The top four risks are smoking, alcohol use, being overweight, and obesity. Full-time farmers are less likely to smoke than nonfarmers. According to a National Health Interview Survey, farmers are more likely than other workers to be overweight but not obese. They also report a higher incidence of joint pain.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) including respirators, dust masks, ear protectors, and sun-safe hats are a farmer's first line of defense against occupational health hazards. The AgriSafe Shop at the Spencer Hospital has a selection of PPE. Visit or, or call 866/312-3002.

During busy seasons when farmers spend a lot of time seated, they need to work on stretching, flexibility, and mobility exercises. In the off-season, they should focus on strength training and aerobic activity.

“Farmers do a lot of bending, climbing, twisting, and lifting,” says trainer Jason Trierweiler. “They need to stay in shape in the off-season. “It's unrealistic to plan on 60- to 90-minute workouts,” he says. “Target 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly.”

Research also shows that exercise combats chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer's. “It's never too late to start,” Trierweiler says. “To use an analogy for good health, you have to pour the foundation first. You don't get to the rooftop on day one.”

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