Hindsight is OK in farming. Questioning your hybrid or herbicide selection or your marketing strategy can lead to better decisions. But never put yourself in a position where you have to ask, “Why didn’t we devote more time to safety?” It’s too late. You need to recommit to farm safety today.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports:
- In 2012, 374 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related injury — a fatality rate of 20.2 deaths per 100,000 workers.
- On average, 113 youth younger than 20 die each year from farm-related injuries, with most of these deaths occurring to youth between ages 16 and 19 (34 percent).
- Of the leading sources of fatal injuries to youth, 23 percent involved machinery (including tractors), 19 percent involved motor vehicles (including ATVs) and 16 percent were due to drowning.
- Every day, about 167 agricultural workers suffer an injury resulting in lost work time. Five percent of these injuries result in permanent impairment.
- In 2012, an estimated 14,000 youth were injured on farms; 2,700 of these injuries were due to farm work.
How do we improve?
Prevention seems like an obvious place to start. The type of prevention might not be so obvious. Yes, taking direct steps, such as making sure safety shields are in place, can prevent accidents and injuries. It makes good sense. But the most important preventive step is to make sure equipment is in top working order. Preventing breakdowns saves time. You can maintain your pace and stay on track. According to Farm Safety for Just Kids, one of the most common things people say after a farm accident is, “I was in a hurry.” Do whatever you can now — perform routine maintenance, replace worn parts, stock replacement parts — to reduce potential downtime.
Pressure to stay on schedule can mount as each day passes, especially if weather or other factors outside of our control create delays. That can allow the mind to wander instead of focusing on the task at hand. Lack of concentration can lead to carelessness in areas of farm safety away from tractors and fields, such as:
Grain bins. Spring can be a busy time for transporting grain. Grain handling is an area ripe for rushing or cutting corners, especially when the weather turns and fields begin to dry — and you’ve got a mountain of grain to move. The University of Illinois Extension offers several quick reminders about safety in and around grain bins.
Animal safety. Baby calves or piglets can change the disposition of the most trustworthy cow or sow. Never enter a pen without an awareness of the animals in the pen. Always have an escape plan.
Highway driving. The road is no place for distraction. But letting your mind wander — thinking about the part you need, which field to work next or how you’ll find time to make to your daughter’s school activity — can cause a split-second lapse that leads to disaster. Slow down and remind yourself of basic driving skills.
As you prepare your equipment for spring field work, make time for safety:
- Do you have enough first-aid kits? Do family members and employees know where to find the kits? Are the kits up to date and well-stocked?
- Does every employee or family member have emergency contact information stored on cellphones or at their fingertips?
- Skin cancer and other sun-related health issues are a serious concern in agriculture. Make sure sunscreen is available, plentiful and applied. Preventing sunburn is critical to good skin health.
- Stay rested and eat right. Sleep deprivation and poor nutrition can quickly lead to loss of focus and poor decisions.
No matter how attentive and aware you are about farm safety, accidents or other catastrophic events can and will happen. For those times, be prepared to manage the situation. Develop and implement a comprehensive farm emergency action plan. These plans include everything from farm maps to employee gathering points to evacuation procedures.
Spring is a wonderful time of year. Take steps today to enjoy it — safely.