By Dee Jepsen
National Farm Safety and Health Week is September 16 to 22. This annual promotional week commemorates the hard work, diligence, and sacrifices made by our nation’s farmers and ranchers. This year’s safety theme is “Agricultural safety and health – A family affair.”
Working in agriculture is different than working in other businesses. There is a culture amongst farm families that encourages children to work beside adults, usually at a young age. And on the other side of the age spectrum, there is not a pre-determined age when senior farmers retire from the farm. This family-style approach of involving many generations makes the farm work environment very different from other
occupations. And from a risk assessment point of view, it is sometimes more challenging to manage.
Children are at risk
On farms it is difficult to determine where the backyard ends and the barnyard begins. Allowing children in the “work space” often means they are exposed to all the noise, dust, and chemical environments that the workforce is also subjected. They are also at risk for equipment entanglements, livestock hazards, drowning and electrocution. Because farm children grow up in these “familiar” areas, they often don’t recognize the dangers.
However, farm kids need to be on the farm. It is their way of life. They are developing an understanding for hard work and what it means to have a sustainable lifestyle. Farm kids have time to be outdoors and gain a deep appreciation for the natural wonders of watching plants and animals grow. Farm teens have usually been nurtured into their work environment, learning from lessons and experiences from earlier years.
Having good role models for children is the best lesson
When the entire family unit has respect for safety, it helps promote skills and knowledge for hazard recognition. Developing a safety conscience kid requires good role models who understand dangers and teach the young person how to be aware and make good decisions in times of trouble. Farm environments can be unpredictable; children often learn the seriousness of workplace hazards through first hand experiences or story telling. And as these farm kids become employees in the mainstream workplace, they seem to have an appreciation for rules and respect for safety compared to their non-farm peers.
Senior farmers also at risk
While it is easy to focus on children, it is also equally important to realize that senior farmers face similar hazards as the young people. Some of the common conditions that put them at risk include:
• working with older equipment that may lack the modern safety shields and guards to offer protection
• working in older facilities that are not in the best repair and may contribute to slips or falls
• taking medication that affects the ability to operate equipment
• tiring easily and lacking focus during certain times of the day
• having limited range of motion or other physical limitations that prevents quick reaction time
• working in isolation or remote areas without having regular check-in times
• having limited means of communication when needed.
Preventing injuries is a family affair
To have a successful business, the operation must have commitment from the owner all the way down the line to the last employee. Farming operations are no different; regardless of the size of the operation, the same dedication is needed to succeed. Similar to other businesses, there are inputs to manage, outputs to market, employees to manage, and outside pressures from the pubic or Mother Nature to juggle.
From a safety standpoint, managing safety and health risks in an agricultural operation can be similar to other businesses. There are equipment hazards, electrical hazards, liabilities, insurance issues, and environmental exposure to noise, dusts, and extreme temperatures. There are personal protective equipment (PPE) products like gloves, respirators, safety glasses, and harnesses available to protect the worker while in high exposure environments. There are engineering controls like Roll Over Protective Structures (ROPS), shields, guards, and safety shut-off switches that safeguard the employee during equipment operation. There are also public policies in place that may affect certain environmental practices, hiring conditions, or road transport restrictions.
Families can work together to protect against hazards by maintaining engineering controls and following recommended best management practices. When they do this, they are also making a commitment to remain a sustainable business. Everyday routines for farm families to follow are:
- Have rules in place for everyone to observe,
- Have a keen eye to scout out possible hazardous conditions and correct them, and
- Have a respect for the dangers that exist and don’t take matters of personal safety and protection lightly.
Farmers work in one of the most hazardous industries in the United States. Keeping everyone safe and healthy is a family affair.
Dee Jepsen, Assistant Professor for Agricultural Safety and Health, can be reached at 292-6008 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering.