By Dee Jepsen, Ohio State University assistant professor for Agricultural Safety and Health
National Farm Safety and Health Week is Sept. 18-24. This annual promotional week commemorates the hard work, diligence, and sacrifices made by our nation’s farmers and ranchers.
The 2011 theme is “Safety Counts: Your Community depends on it!” This is a positive message to share with all involved in the farm communities. Farmers, farm families and farm workers need to know they are valued for the food, fuel and fiber they produce. A death or injury can negatively affect a business and personal income; on a larger scale, farm fatalities can drastically change the complexion of the community.
The fact about agricultural safety is that farm hazards don’t discriminate by age, gender or commodity. Farm injuries can happen to everyone, even those who do not live on a farm. For example, people visit farms for many reasons. They may be friends or relatives or have fishing and hunting access. It is often difficult to separate the family and recreational side of the farm from the occupational or business side.
For many, farming is more of a culture than it is an occupation. We know that farmers account for about 2% of the nation’s population, and that the average age of an Ohio farmer is 56 years. There are very few work place settings where you find young children and retired seniors working together.
These working relationships are not just embraced by the farm culture, they are often encouraged. This is part of the culture that builds strong communities. Yet because of this age spread, injury rates are higher than in other occupations.
The seasons of farm injuries
If you were asked which season is the most hazardous for Ohio farmers, which would you choose: A) spring , B) summer, or C) fall?
The correct answer is summer. This season takes into account the multiple activities happening on the farm. It takes into account planting — usually double crop soybeans or cover crops, harvesting of small grains (wheat and oats), baling hay and straw, working with livestock, and many field-related activities like mowing, spraying, cultivating and installing tile. And, recently, deaths in and around grain bins have made monthly news in many Midwest states. Similarly, Ohio has seen an increase in the number of injuries associated with grain facilities. In the past 10 years, Ohio fatality reports show five people died from auger entanglements, four died from a fall or being struck by an object at the grain bin, three died from suffocation, and two from unknown causes.
The fatality rate on Ohio farms in 2010 increased compared to the previous three years. On average, about 23 farmers lose their life each year, and another 15,000 incur injuries of some nature. If statistics were the only measurement, then these reports would end here. However many agribusinesses and local agencies are rallying around the need for safety and injury prevention.
For more from Jepsen, see the Applied Engineering column in the Mid September Ohio’s Country Journal.