The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Safety Council (NSC) are two agencies that collect information on occupational injuries and fatalities. The BLS is limited to gathering information on farms that employ 11 or more hired workers. Among this group, the injury rate is 1.5 times the rate for all industries nationwide. However, the fatality rate is 4.3 times that of industry as a whole, making agriculture one of the most hazardous industries in the United States. For example, in Texas, 227 people were killed in agriculture, forestry, and commercial fishing accidents from 1996 through 2003. This total does not include any fatalities on small family-run farms.
Across the United States, tractor accidents account for the highest number of farm fatalities. Tractors turning over cause most of these. Hazards such as ditches, gullies, stumps, and operating on steep slopes cause tractor rollovers. Other causes include taking turns at high speed, loss of control with towed loads, improper hitching, and collisions with road traffic. A tractor running over a person is the second most common tractor-related fatality. Many run-over accidents involve riders who fall from tractors and many of these are children. All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), now in regular use on many farms and ranches, also have a strong potential for rollover hazard.
Machinery causes most of the other injuries on a farm. The entanglement of clothing and limbs in moving parts is a major hazard. Hydraulic equipment failures include pinhole leaks and pressure failures of jacks that cause equipment to drop suddenly during maintenance. Chain saws, improperly used, can cause severe injuries.
Large farm animals, especially dairy breed bulls, are responsible for many injuries.
Other hazards on farms and feedlots include storage structures such as silos, grain bins/wagons, and manure pits that pose asphyxiation, explosion and engulfment hazards. Overhead power lines that contact equipment — especially portable augers — cause electrocutions. Slips and falls from ladders, roofs and on steps and walkways are common.
Exposure to pesticides can result in severe or fatal poisoning. Inhalation of grain dusts as well as molds in grain, hay, and silage can lead to short- or long-term respiratory problems for farm workers.
Finally, the very nature of the physical demands of farm work leads to injuries from improper heavy lifting, handling livestock and repetitive motions.
The injury rate for farm workers is much higher for males than females and higher for hired workers than for family members.
In rural areas, hospitals and emergency medical care is frequently not readily available to farm and ranch workers. This makes accident prevention all the more important. You will see many benefits, including fewer injuries, increased production, and reduced medical costs if you adopt the following recommendations:
- Inspect your operation and try to identify as many hazards as possible.
- Develop accident prevention plans for fires, vehicle accidents, electrical shocks, and chemical storage and exposures.
- Take preventive measures by reading and following instructions in the equipment operator’s manuals about product handling and storage specifications.
- Conduct preventive maintenance on your vehicles and equipment to anticipate problems and potential failures.
- Provide approved rollover protection structures and seat belts for all motorized equipment. Never allow anyone to ride on a tractor.
- Equip your tractors with proper lighting, amber flashing lights, and reflective triangle placards for those times when you must drive on a road.
- Always wear helmets when operating ATVs.
- Shield power take-offs and all drive mechanisms on tractors at all times. Be sure always to restore these guards after maintenance.
- Check for hydraulic pinhole leaks with paper or cardboard. Support equipment with stands in addition to jacks during maintenance.
- Always wear protective equipment when using chain saws, including hearing protection, and practice safe cutting procedures.
- Practice safe handling procedures with animals and always remain alert when working with them. In animal housing and handling areas, provide even lighting. Shadows cast by uneven lighting can frighten animals. Construct chutes for animals so that animals can pass through but cannot turn around. Do not enter cramped areas such as stalls holding large animals. New mothers, such as cows and sows, may suddenly attack if they feel their offspring may be in danger.
- Manure pits contain toxic hydrogen sulfide and explosive methane gases. When constructing manure pits, build structures to prevent accidental entry. No one should ever enter a pit without a supplied-air respirator. Never allow flame or spark sources anywhere near manure pits. Agitation of a manure pit will cause extra release of gases. Always ventilate pits prior to entry.
- Silos may contain silo gas, which is primarily nitrogen dioxide, and which can cause severe, even fatal lung burns. Do not enter silos for three weeks after filling, the peak period for production of the gas. Always ventilate silos prior to entry.
- Never allow people to enter grain bins or wagons during loading or unloading operations due to the engulfment hazard. During grain, silage and hay transfer operations, provide respiratory protective masks to prevent inhalation of dusts, bacteria and mold spores.
- Review “Material Safety Data Sheets” and chemical product labels. Educate your workers on chemical hazards and provide the recommended personal protective equipment and wash-up/wash-down stations.
- When you construct concrete floors and walkways, allow for good drainage, and leave a rough finish to provide better footing in wet conditions.
- When moving portable equipment such as augers, make sure you secure them in a lowered position. If you have overhead power lines in work areas, consider rerouting or burying them.
In addition to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the Worker Protection Standard to provide safety to workers handling pesticides used in agricultural production. This standard applies to all farms, not just those with employees.
Finally, if children are present on your farm, you must control their activities. Teach them to stay away from areas where you are working and to keep away from machinery, even when it is parked. When you give children chores, be sure that the work is within their physical, mental, and emotional capabilities and train them thoroughly in the assigned tasks.