Ag Safety Week Reminder: Train Your Workers

American Society of Safety Engineers urges farmers to invest in safety programs and precautions to prevent injuries and illnesses to workers and children.

Published on: Mar 7, 2012

Safety needs to be the main ingredient in helping keep farms and ranches safe for farmers, family members including children and employees. The American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) agriculture branch reminds everyone that March 4-10 is Agriculture Safety Awareness Week.  As part of the safety week, ASSE members are offering agriculture safety and health tips on-line at http://www.asse.org/newsroom/safetytips/farmsafetytips.php .  

The chairman of the ASSE agriculture branch is Mike Wolf, a certified professional safety engineer. He notes that "Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the U.S. Farming is the only industry that regularly has young workers and children present and it is critical that everyone working in or around farms is aware of the risks, hazards and ways to avoid injury and illness in these types of settings. Installing rollover protection on tractors and ensuring all farm workers and children are educated on farm safety practices is critical to reducing farm-related fatalities."

Leading cause of fatal farm injuries is tractor overturns--more than 90 deaths annually

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009, approximately 1,783,000 full-time workers were employed in the agriculture industry in the U.S. During the same year, 440 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injuries, resulting in a fatality rate of 24.7 deaths per 100,000 workers. Each day, approximately 243 agricultural workers suffer lost-time injuries, with 5% of these resulting in permanent impairments, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  The leading cause of fatal farm injuries was tractor overturns, which accounts for more than 90 deaths annually.

Rollover protection structures (ROPS) are important to reducing risk when it comes to tractor fatalities, says Wolf. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) supports the theory that ROPS and proper seatbelt use on tractors can help eliminate fatalities by reducing risk of being thrown from the tractor, or crushed in a rollover incident. ROPS can be retrofitted onto older tractors to increase safety of such machines. Many companies provide engineer-certified ROPS for purchase and installation.

Most farms do not fall under the auspices of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules and regulations. Hence, ASSE urges farmers to train workers, including young farmers, in all aspects of farming risks and safety.   Machinery, motor vehicles and drowning were the causes of most of the fatal incidents involving children on U.S. farms and ranches.  In 2009, an estimated 16,100 children and adolescents were injured on farms, with 3,400 of these injuries due to farm work.  On average, 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries, with most of these deaths occurring among youth 16-19 years of age. 

Farmers urged to train workers, including young farmers, in all aspects of farm safety risks

A major ag safety risk, according to OSHA, is grain handling. Workers can be exposed to risks such as fires and explosions, suffocate from engulfment and entrapment in grain bins, falls from heights, and crushing or amputation injuries from grain handling equipment. In 2010, there were 51 workers engulfed by grain storage in bins and 26 of those trapped lost their lives. This type of tragedy can occur when workers walk on moving grain, which acts like quicksand according to OSHA, or when they attempt to clear grain bins. Moving grain can bury a worker in seconds.

Grain dust explosions are also a high-risk element of working with grain as it is combustible and will burn or explode if exposed to an ignition source.

Electrical safety is another major hazard on farms, notes Wolf.  Regular electrical inspections are necessary to prevent accidents due to malfunctioning or old electrical equipment. Harvest season is the best time to inspect all machinery and electrical equipment, including clearing outlets, lighting, electrical panels and equipment from obstructions or debris. One should check to make sure wires have not been affected by mice or other animals and carefully examine all connections.

To learn more about ag safety and health and to view ASSE's farm safety facts for rural areas, farm safety and health tips and farm safety tips for young workers, visit www.asse.org/newsroom. For information about ASSE's Practice Specialty Agricultural Branch, visit www.asse.org/practicespecialties/ag-safety.