While farming is always a gamble in terms of the weather and market conditions, most of those who farm the land believe they’ve got the best job in the world — working outside in some of the most beautiful and serene surroundings anywhere.
Unfortunately, thousands of farm workers are injured every year and hundreds more die in farming accidents. According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the nation. It doesn’t help that hospitals and emergency medical care are typically not readily accessible in rural areas near farms.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that farm safety can be improved by increasing awareness of farming hazards and making a conscious effort to prepare for emergency situations including fires, vehicle accidents, electrical shocks from equipment and wires and chemical exposures.
OSHA recommends being especially alert to hazards that may affect children and the elderly. Injury rates are highest among children age 15 and under and adults over 65.
Using protective equipment, such as seat belts on tractors and personal protective equipment (such as safety gloves, coveralls, boots, hats, aprons, goggles, face shields) could significantly reduce farming injuries, the agency notes.
“Minimize hazards by carefully selecting the products you buy to ensure that you provide good tools and equipment. Always use seat belts when operating tractors and establish and maintain good housekeeping practices,” OSHA cautions. “Read and follow instructions in equipment operator’s manuals and on product labels. Inspect equipment routinely for problems that may cause accidents. Discuss safety hazards and emergency procedures with farm workers.”
Since most farm accidents and fatalities involve machinery, the agency recommends installing approved rollover protective structures, protective enclosures, or protective frames on tractors and making sure that guards on farm equipment are replaced after maintenance. It stresses the importance of taking advantage of safety equipment, such as bypass starter covers, power take-off master shields and slow-moving vehicle emblems.
In addition, OSHA recommends reviewing and following instructions in material safety data sheets and on labels that come with chemical products and communicating information on these hazards to farm workers.
Among the most dangerous locations on a farm are grain bins.
“Take precautions to prevent entrapment and suffocation caused by unstable surfaces of grain storage bins, silos, or hoppers. Never ‘walk the grain,’” OSHA warns. “Be aware that methane gas, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can form in unventilated grain silos and manure pits and can suffocate or poison workers or explode.”