Farm safety — A legacy to be proud of

National Farm Safety and Health Week is September 18 to 24, 2016. This annual promotional week commemorates the hard work, diligence, and sacrifices made by our nation’s farmers and ranchers. The 2016 safety theme is “Farm safety – A legacy to be proud of.”

From a safety professional’s perspective, the term “sustainable agriculture” takes on a whole different meaning than that talked about by lawyers, tax advisors and insurance agents. Estate transitions and succession planning are management tools that can leave a lasting legacy for the next generation. Safety advocates believe that working safely and being conscientious of best management practices, are other ways to leave a legacy for the next generation of farmers.

I have often said, it’s difficult to determine where the backyard ends and the barnyard begins. This phrase helps illustrate to many rural and non-rural people the struggle that we have in agriculture to separate the home place from the work site. This gray area of separation often makes the farm work environment very different from other occupations. And from a risk assessment point of view, it is more challenging to manage.

 

Farming is hazardous

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. Fatalities occur at a higher rate in agriculture than most other industries. Farms are only one contributor to the total agricultural industry, other contributors include forestry and commercial fishing. When all agricultural-related occupations are grouped together, that’s how agriculture quickly surpasses other professions. 

The Department of Labor estimates the fatal injury rate in the agricultural industry is eight times higher than all other industries. In 2014, the agricultural sector reported 24.9 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers compared to 3.3 reported in the all-other industry category. And this trend is similar for workplace injuries.

 

Ohio farm fatalities are nearing an all-time low

While neighboring states are reporting an increase in fatalities, Ohio statistics are going in the opposite (and more positive) direction. Ohio fatalities and injuries have steadily decreased in the last five years. This trend is one to celebrate.

Data collected by The Ohio State University Agricultural Safety & Health Program reports Ohio agricultural fatalities have gone from 27 deaths in 2006 to 11 in 2014. Even with this decrease, tractors and farm machinery are the largest factors contributing to these deaths.

There were 14,344 agricultural-related claims submitted to the Bureau of Workers Compensation program for the years 1999 though 2008. Sprains and strains were the most frequent injury type, with upper extremity injuries being the most frequent body part affected.

 

Managing the risks on Ohio farms

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. Engineering controls like Roll Over Protective Structures (ROPS), shields, guards, and safety shut-off switches are other safeguards to protect the employee during equipment operation. There are also public policies in place that may affect certain environmental practices, hiring conditions, or road transport restrictions. 

When safety practices are put into place, they also have an opportunity to positively affect the business’s bottom line. Fewer work-related claims can mean less time off work for injuries and doctor appointments, and promotes more productivity on the farm.

 

Prevention can include elements from the Three Es

Farm families and employees can work together to protect against hazards, by using the “Three E Approach.” When they do this, they are also making a commitment to remain a sustainable business. Everyday routines for farm families to follow are:

  1. Education: Teach everyone the safe way to work, and attend training programs whenever they are offered to improve knowledge of farm hazards.
  2. Engineering: Keep shields and guards in place, and don’t disable or tamper with the built-in safety devices on powered equipment. Also, install ROPS and seatbelts on all open-stationed farm tractors, and use the ROPS and seatbelts that are sold on modern day tractors and larger horse-powered lawn and garden mowers.
  3. Enforcement: Even while the farm may not have an OSHA obligation or Department of Labor inspectors visiting on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to have rules in place for everyone to observe. Employer rules for ensuring workplace safety practices are followed can be developed and carried out with minimum distraction to the overall daily routine. These rules can save a farm from costly litigation in the event that a workplace injury does occur.

A commitment of farm owners to improve the workplace safety record is also making a commitment to remain a sustainable business for the future. That is why practicing farm safety is leaving a legacy for others to follow. And just like the 2016 slogan states, a legacy to be proud of.

 

Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor for Agricultural Safety and Health, can be reached at (614) 292-6008 or Jepsen.4@osu.edu. This column in provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.   

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