by Noah Radliff
When I was a child I had always heard stories from my father about my grandfather. I never knew him due to an agriculture accident. I only got to know my grandfather through funny stories and passing memories shared from my father. I have always known that my grandfather had passed away from a farm related accident when my father was just 17 years old. The part of the story that has stuck with me the most has been the aftermath of the accident when a family member had to inform the rest of the family “he’s gone.”
Let us get into the facts about agriculture workers vs. incidents/accidents. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has statistics until 2011 and Center for Disease Control (CDC) and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has statistics until 2016. This article will reference the most current CDC information.
An estimated 2 million full-time workers and 720,000 youth under the age of 20 were employed in production agriculture in the U.S. in 2017. In 2016 the CDC states that 417 farmers and work farmers died due to a work related injury. Of those deaths the leading cause is what the CDC refers to as “Transportation Incidents.” The majority of these are tractor rollovers. The CDC also states there are about 100 agricultural workers per day that suffer lost work. These are mostly due to sprains or strains. In 2014, 4,000 youths, 20 years and younger, received injuries were due to farm work.
We have these agricultural incidents statics… where do we go from here? There is a lot of information to protect yourself, your workers, and your family from farm incidents/accidents. Go to www.osha.gov.
Personal responsibility is a must when it comes to everyday farming operations. Agriculturists need to actively identify things like what is the maximum limit that the tractor loader can pick up? What maximum pressures can you put on the tractor while it is pulling a piece of machinery? Farmers also need to educate themselves on safe driving practices. Please find and read the operator’s manual!
A lot of new farmers stock their yards with implements and tractors to do the day-to-day chores required for their farm. The machinery might not be the newest of machines. They might only be able to afford a cheap 2nd, 3rd or 4th hand tractor that still runs great and will suit the purpose needed. There is a great possibility that the guards or safety features have been removed due to failure or inconvenience of location on the tractor. Remember the same thing also applies to the implements. Belts break, shear pins snap, safety covers are removed. Sometimes the covers aren’t put back on and are lost in the shuffle in the back of the farm shop. So when that implement is sold the person buying might not know that there should be a guard on it protecting the user from moving parts. Again, read the operator’s manual. Most operation manuals can be found online if none are with the machinery.
Another point is that the older tractors didn’t have any roll over protection systems (ROPS). These ROPS are designed to prevent tractors from rolling over on their operators if there was an accident involving a vehicle on the road or on a side hill resulting in a tip over. Remember rollovers are the largest cause of farmer and farm operator deaths. If you are in need of ROPS there is a rebate program through NYCAMH.
My neighbor, who is a new farmer rolled his tractor. Thankfully, for him he had ROPS. At that time my tractor did not. That occurrence brought it to my attention how serious of a situation it could have been had it been my tractor with me on it. That day I was calling NYCAMH and was getting set up with a system for my tractor that could save my life.
Another important point and one of the cheapest and quickest ways to add protection for the operator running implements is to make sure that the power take off or PTO has a guard on it. There have been cases of farm owners, farm workers and their children getting sucked into these PTO’s with absolutely terrible consequences. The PTO shield is designed when inadvertently touched to spin freely from the PTO shaft. No excuses…. All PTO shafts should be covered. NYCAMH also sells PTO covers.
Farmers should also be aware of their surroundings. Handling livestock, dealing with dusty areas and chemicals, and working in confined spaces can be potentially hazardous. Often new farmers don’t fully understand or long-time farmers temporarily forget what a large animal can do to its surroundings and handler. Bottom line is that an animal, whatever its size, can and will do what it wants. Always have an exit plan to get out of the animal’s way, and for that matter, any harms way. Farmers also need to keep in mind the areas they might be working in may be dusty areas and/or confined areas with lack of airflow. Having a dust mask or respirator that fits properly and a fan blowing in fresh air is an excellent additive measure to help stay safe in those types of working conditions. In addition, when working with chemicals, make sure you have the proper respirator and fresh air so the person working with the chemicals won’t be overcome with fumes. Make sure to read the information on the labels so as not to mix chemicals and make a toxic gas as well as proper mixing, handling and application methods. Remember letting someone know you are going to be working in these conditions or having a spotter or second set of eyes outside of the area of possible harm is more important than you know. We must not become complacent with these everyday tasks.
Being safe on the farm should also be extended to tools in which you may also use. Farmers are a diverse group of people — tractors one hour, using chainsaws cutting trees away from fence lines the next and we may end the day using air-nailers to finish up that shed. It is easy to forget to be safe while jumping to the next job. We may forget gloves, eye protection, hearing protection, chainsaw chaps, hardhat, etc. We need to have that little voice in the back of our heads to “slow down there is always tomorrow.” There may not be a tomorrow if we make a silly mistake that could have been avoided thus creating a tragedy.
A brief point I would like to make is to anyone who wears a wedding band while they are working… I am now the third generation to remove their wedding band due to almost losing my finger. It is something very simple that may not be thought of until you get your finger caught or pinched somewhere where you could lose it.
If you have children always make sure that you know where they are. Tractors can be large. The implements can be large. They are loud and there are many blind spots. I remember as a child my mother even asking the bulk truck driver to check under the truck and tires to make sure that none of us kids were running around playing prior to him leaving.
Teach hired hands and children about the hazards of the farm. Never just assume that they know the ins and outs of all agriculture aspects. You have a personal responsibility to keep everyone safe and the workers should have been taught the ability to recognize hazards to keep themselves safe.