You may not realize it, but your life is affected by farmers each day. More than 90 percent of the food items consumed in the United States are produced, whole or in part, by American farmers. Less than two percent of Americans live on farms yet farmers produce a great percentage of the materials needed to create the food, clothing, shelter and other items we use in our daily lives. Rarely do we stop and take the time to think about where our food and other items come from or the labor-intensive, and sometimes dangerous, processes involved in the production of these items.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Safety Council, agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the nation. Each year, thousands of farm workers are injured and hundreds killed in farm-related accidents. Figures show that 20.3 farm fatalities occur each year for every 100,000 farm workers. With about 60,000 farm workers in Alabama, that equals to an average of 12 farm fatalities each year in Alabama.
Since many farms are family-owned and operated and the family often lives on the premises, they are also at risk for fatalities and injuries. Many teenagers and children work on family farms, especially during the summer months, and statistics show that farm-related injuries are highest among children age 15 and under. Adults older than 65 are also at an increased risk of suffering injuries while working on the farm.
Farm workers are exposed to a variety of hazards during their daily operations. Some of these hazards include:
Machinery and equipment are involved in a majority of farm-related injuries and fatalities. Many hazards associated with tractors include roll-overs, run-overs, collisions, exposure to moving machinery, weather conditions and uneven terrain. Workers can also be hit run-over or entangled in other types of farm machinery, causing serious injury or even death. Child Labor Laws prohibit children under the age of 16 from operating certain types of equipment and state laws may be even stricter.
Chemicals and Pesticides
Pesticides and chemicals used on the farm can be dangerous. One of the main ways chemicals enter the body is through contact with skin and clothing, from working in fields that have been treated with chemicals or from handling them for application. Breathing mist, dust, fumes or smoke that contains chemicals or pesticides is also hazardous.
Organic dust from hay, grain, fuel chips, straw and livestock includes mold, pollen, bacteria, pesticides, feed particles and animal particles is hazardous. Long term exposure can lead to congestion, coughing, sensitivity to dust and frequent infections such as colds, bronchitis and pneumonia and even result in serious respiratory illnesses.
According to statistics, 62 farm workers are electrocuted each year in the United States. Electrocution can be deadly and some of the common causes are portable grain augers, oversized wagons, large combines and other tall equipment coming into contact with overhead power lines.
Falls are the most common accident in agriculture and can result in serious injury or death. Even falling just 12 feet can kill you. Wearing proper shoes and following safe work procedures can help farm works avoidslips or trips that lead to falls.
Grain bins pose a serious threat to farm workers when they are emptied. Workers risk being crushed or suffocated by flowing grain. Grain dust can also cause respiratory problems.
Farm animals can seriously injure people if they are startled or feel threatened. Workers should approach animals quietly and from the front to avoid startling them. Also, workers should avoid animals with newborns because the animals may attack if they feel their offspring are in danger. Workers should take note of their surroundings and plan an escape route if an animal starts behaving unpredictably. Also, workers should wash hands thoroughly after feeding or handling livestock to protect against disease or infections that could spread from animals to humans.
Gases can build up to toxic levels in confined spaces such as manure pits and silos without proper ventilation. Toxic gases can quickly overcome and kill a worker entering or working in one of these spaces.
Other hazards workers encounter on the farm include extreme heat or cold, sun exposure, noise, hand tools, highway traffic and injuries from lifting heavy objects.
OSHA recommends the following steps to safeguard against injuries and accidents while working on the farm:
• Always read the operator’s manual and follow instructions on product labels for equipment and machinery
• Inspect equipment routinely to identify any problems that could lead to malfunction or cause an accident
• Discuss safety hazards and outline emergency procedures with workers
• Install approved rollover protective structures, protective enclosures or protective frames on farm tractors
• Make sure guards on farm equipment are replaced after maintenance
• Review and follow instructions in material safety data sheets and on labels that come with chemical products. Make sure workers are aware of the hazards and proper use and storage of the chemicals
• Take precautions to prevent entrapment and suffocation caused by unstable surfaces of grain storage bins, silos or hoppers. Never “walk the grain”
• 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. Wear a self-contained breathing apparatus, a lifeline, and a harness. Someone property trained and equipped to rescue in an emergency should be on standby.
• Use safety equipment, such as bypass starter covers, power take-off master shields and slow-moving vehicle emblems
• For more information on these and other topics from OSHA, please visit www.osha.gov.