ST. PAUL -- The agricultural industry is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States because of the broad risks associated with the occupation. First of all, there are many risks associated with the mechanical operations of farm equipment. Many moving parts and wheels make this an important area of concern.
Second, one of the associated risks encountered deals with chemical hazards. Farmers utilize a broad range of pesticides and fertilizers that have safety requirements associated with their use. The use of these products should merit concern and directions should be followed.
Third, there are the potential environmental hazards with the occupation. The hours involved are typically long due to the limited amount of time to properly time crop planting, spraying, etc. The environment for the occupation is often adverse for the ideal safety measures, but they still need to be taken.
Research from the National Safety Council indicates that 700 farmers and ranchers die in work-related accidents yearly. Most every farm family and rural community knows of someone that has been one of these statistics. The sad part is that a majority of these accidents are preventable. Agricultural industry statistics also indicate that another 120,000 agricultural workers suffer disabling injuries from work-related accidents.
One of the recent trends in the agricultural industry is an increase in the amount of land that is farmed by a farmer. The amount of land farmed makes crop producers push harder to cover more acres in the same amount of time. Weather conditions play a big part in how hard the farmer needs to push to do their work in the allotted time.
Another trend is the increased size of equipment utilized for production. Farm implements have gotten a lot larger in recent years to help facilitate covering more acres per farmer. This equipment can be dangerous in the field and roadways due to the sheer size, power and length of implements and judging the associated distances.
Parallel to the number of acres increasing for farmers is also the age of farmers. Farmers tend to continue working on the farm past their mid-60s into their 70s and beyond. These older-generation farmers often use more prescribed medications, work with physical disabilities and also suffer from hearing loss. These farmers are at a heightened risk for work-related injuries and death.
Finally, children are also at a special risk for farm-related accidents. There are typically 200-plus deaths every year among children and many of these situations occur when they are innocent bystanders or passengers on farm equipment.
Be sure to think about all the mechanical, chemical and environmental hazards associated with your work. Do your best to follow the safest procedures to ensure safety for everyone involved. Remember that accidents can happen at any time and those at risk range from youth to senior farmers. To help avoid accidents, be sure that everyone communicates the importance of safety and practices safety in the work they do.
The National Safety Council has more helpful information to help you stay safe on the farm at http://www.nsc.org/resources/issues/agrisafe.aspx.
University of Minnesota Extension has also aggregated farm safety publications at http://www.extension.umn.edu/topics.html?topic4&subtopic78.
Nathan Winter is an agriculture educator with University of Minnesota Extension.