As we go through our busy days, and think about what we’re going to prepare (or buy) for dinner, how many of us consider how that food got to the grocery store, into our kitchens and onto our tables? We have our farmers to thank for the blessings of food. Agriculture is a big business, and our farmers, dairymen, and ranchers, who grow our vegetables, fruits, beef and pork, as well as produce milk products, work hard to make a living.
There are all types of farmers – from older ones who learned the hard way, to younger ones who utilize technology to improve agriculture on a larger scale, to part-time farmers who also have other occupations, to niche/boutique farmers who produce specialty products. They all have different needs when it comes to safety and health. Certain hazards for those on the farm are exposure to noise from tractors and other equipment. Many have hearing loss from years of running heavy equipment. They are exposed to too much sun, which can cause skin cancer, and they breathe dust, and chemical fumes that can cause lung damage (farmers lung.)
Children who grow up on farms learn at an early age chores that they are expected to do to help their parents. They are taught to be careful around livestock, as even the little animals can kick if the mood strikes them. Two of the main hazards for youngsters who live in rural areas are machinery and drowning. Drowning rates for all age groups are three times higher in rural regions than urban areas. There are rivers, ponds, lakes, and canals that may be tempting for kids to jump into on a hot day. Other causes of injuries to children on farms are livestock and falls.
Future Farmers of America and 4-H Clubs are groups that young people interested in agriculture can join. Many extension groups exist for women in farming, as well. Our government has established many programs to help protect our farmers, such as agricultural-occupational health services. Rural emergency services should be specially trained to treat injured farmers, ranchers, and their workers for injuries specific to their occupations. Tractor-related injuries and deaths are hazards that most farmers face every day. Pesticides that are needed to control crop damage are health-related risk factors, too.
The National Safety Council estimates that approximately 160,000 agricultural workers suffer disabling injuries each year. This may be a conservative estimate, as many accidents go unreported. The National Agriculture Safety Database covers many of the risks farmers face, and recommends the proper use of personal protective equipment that meets the particular need:
- Head protection – For protection from falling objects, hard hats are the best. Bump caps can also be worn for protection from ordinary scrapes and bumps, but do not protect from impact.
- Eye protection – Wearing goggles, face shields, or safety glasses can prevent rocks, soil, crop materials, or foreign objects from being thrown into the eyes. Chemicals from spray cans can also cause serious damage to the eyes.
- Foot protection – Safety footwear doesn’t have to look like it; there are types of lightweight work boots that are designed for comfort and protection from dropped objects, stepping on sharp rocks, or maybe even being stepped on by an animal.
- Hand protection – Gloves that are chemical-resistant should be worn anytime pesticides are being used. Other work gloves protect the hands from hazards associated with most farm duties.
- Breathing protection – dust from livestock or equipment can cause breathing problems. Dust masks or respirators will help alleviate discomfort from trying to breathe under these conditions.
- Protection from sick animals – Whenever treating a sick animal, wear eye protection and gloves, and cover open wounds on your body, as some diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans.
We understand that almost every occupation has some risk of injury; however, September is Farm Safety Month, and this is our way of saying thanks for all they do, and to let them know how much we appreciate their hard work and the hazards they face to grow the products we all need. “Thank You” to all of you who work in agriculture. Stay safe!