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Avoid farm safety hazards during harvest

National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 17-23, reminder: Older or disabled farmers should take extra safety care. The long hours of fall harvest put any farm family at greater risk of injury-particularly for aging farmers and ranchers or those with disabilities.

“Older farmers and ranchers must adjust for the effects of aging. The risk of having an accident increases with age,” said Karen Funkenbusch, coordinator of the AgrAbility program at the University of Missouri.

Compared to the general U.S. labor force, farm operators are considerably older. More than one-fourth of all farm operators are 65 years old or older.

“Unlike most workers, aging farmers tend to continue farming, which is a physically demanding job. They work long, hard hours in difficult conditions and use heavy equipment,” Funkenbusch said. “Safety should be their No. 1 concern.”

National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 17-23, reminds operators to be safe during the harvest season and beyond, she said.

“With aging, farmers can face faster onset of fatigue, reduced vision, slower reaction time, hearing loss and arthritis,” Funkenbusch said. “This can lead to accidents causing death or injuries.”

Workers with physical disabilities, including those with arthritis, are at particular risk of sustaining injuries during harvest season. She estimated that at least 30,000 Missouri farmers, ranchers and others working in agriculture have an existing disability that limits their ability to perform work-related tasks.

Funkenbusch offers several tips for these farmers.

Have your eyes checked by a doctor regularly. Remember vision is most difficult at dawn and dusk. Avoid driving tractors during these times.

Get plenty of rest, especially during planting or harvesting seasons. Be sure to take frequent breaks to offset fatigue and stress. Periodically stretch arms and legs. This increases blood flow and helps you relax.

Use extreme caution when operating equipment. Be familiar with side effects of medication, including over-the-counter drugs.

Be sure a family member or fellow worker knows where you will be working. Recognize and accept your limitations. Check your fields for large rocks, tree stumps, holes and ditches. If you can’t remove an object, place warning flags around it.

Use two-way radios or cell phones as a direct link should an emergency occur.

The Missouri AgrAbility program helps farm families modify tasks and equipment for safer operation by aging family members. For more information, go to

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