Safety is important in everyday life, especially with farm jobs that involve handling animals and heavy machinery. It is estimated that approximately 38,740 farmers are working with disabilities; many of these are injuries from farm incidents. Safety on the farm is achieved through tasks that are a daily part of their lives, whether it is making sure that all the chemicals from milking are put away, or skillfully using the skid steer to clean the barn. Even the smallest adjustments on dairy farms can provide a better, safer environment.
Daily chores can be hard on the farmer’s joints, from all of the bending and kneeling during milking and feeding, to repetitive arm, wrist and shoulder movements; many farmers use creative shortcuts and other ways to get through chores more quickly. These may seem like good ideas to the farmer, since more work can be done with the time saved, right? But going too fast can lead to accidents. For example, a farmer is moving large square bales for feeding and fits one too many on the wagon; the wagon then becomes too much for the tractor to handle going up a hill and overturns. These incidents can be prevented with just a few extra minutes of precaution around the farm during chores, and some protective technology.
Tractor overturns and rollovers are the leading causes of farm-related deaths. Adding a rollover protective structure (ROPS), which is usually a cab or frame on the back of the tractor, can protect farmers from injuries associated with overturns or rollovers. Having this on every tractor ensures that all drivers, new and seasoned, have the added protection in case of an accident. In fact, tractors with ROPS have been shown to be 99% effective.
Another part of daily life on a farm is using loud equipment—from tractors to harvesters, and even chain saws. These machines are essential for field work, but they can cause damage to ears if the proper protection is not worn. It only takes about two hours driving an open-cab tractor or two minutes using a chain saw to cause ear damage. In order to avoid hearing loss, farmers need to wear earplugs, noise-canceling earmuffs, or other ear-safe tools when operating loud machinery. A tip from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is, “If you need to raise your voice to be heard an arm’s length away, the noise is probably loud enough to damage your hearing.”
Like hearing, vision can be damaged by activities and machines used on the farm. On a daily basis, most people wear sunscreen to protect their skin from damaging sun rays, especially when fixing fences or working in the field. But they do not always think about their eyes. Wearing a wide-brim hat and sunglasses that block out the UV rays can drastically reduce the possibility of damage to your eyes from the sun. When working with welders, grinders, and other machines in the shop, wearing proper goggles or welding masks will help to prevent vision problems that could occur from machines that spark. Make sure that the eye protection gear is snug and comfortable, and fits over any eyeglasses that you wear to provide maximum protection.
Each year almost 16,000 children are injured and as many as 10 are killed on U.S. farms. While it is great to encourage children to help on the farm, it can be incredibly dangerous. Clearly explain where they should and should not go, demonstrating their boundaries, to keep them safe. At the same time, making a designated safe-play area for young children will keep them out of the way of machines and animals, and will allow parents to keep an eye on them. Make sure they know where they are allowed to safely sit in the tractors, how to walk around machines, and the proper techniques for handling animals. If they help when milking, add a wide-based stepstool for them to stand on rather than having them climb or jump to reach the equipment. Even though the farm may also be their home, there are a lot of tools, equipment, chemicals, and animals that can hurt them if they are not aware of the dangers; so it is important for parents to know where the children are and what they are doing to avoid injuries. It is also a good idea to “child-proof” the areas where chemicals are kept in the milk house, or anywhere on the farm.
Back pain and arthritis are common limitations that farmers face because of their repetitive daily chores and the activities that strain the body. It is estimated that 27% of the U.S. population over the age of 18 has some form of back pain, while up to 43% of farmers are estimated to suffer from back pain. To prevent back pain, make sure to use proper lifting methods—keep your back straight, feet should be about shoulder width apart, bend at the knees, and lift with your knees and leg muscles. Before lifting, make sure you can handle it by yourself; don’t lift over your capacity to avoid straining your muscles. There are a variety of tools to make lifting and moving easier on your body, like extra handles to reduce the need for bending, and carts to distribute the weight of objects evenly. When dealing with arthritis, or any type of joint problems, know your limitations. It will not help anyone if you end up hurting yourself further because you did not listen to your body.
From the house to the barn to the pasture, working smarter and safer will be more beneficial in the long run. The medical bills, damaged equipment repairs and lost work time can create incredible expense when farm incidents occur. A study, conducted by Illinois AgrAbility Program Director Dr. Bob Aherin, estimated that the average cost of an on-farm injury is between $24,000 and $30,000; the average cost of an on-farm fatality is $1.1 to $1.2 million.
The bottom line is that farm safety is an everyday priority.
AgriView News: Experts emphasize human cost of ag accidents: http://agrinews-pubs.com/Content/News/Latest-News/Article/Experts-emphasize-human-cost-of-ag-accidents/8/6/11393
National Farm Medicine Center (Marshfield Clinic): http://www. marshfieldclinic.org/nfmc
National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety: Cultivate Safety Campaign: http://cultivatesafety.org/
Marshfield Clinic: Tractor Rollover Protective Structure Rebate Program: http://www3.marshfieldclinic.org/nfmc/default.aspx?page=nfmc_resources_rops_media_kit