The hectic fall harvest is under way, and that means the dangers of everyday farm work—one of the nation’s most hazardous occupations—are compounded by the rush to bring in crops on time. Many agricultural injuries can be prevented with basic safety equipment and mindfulness about the need for caution on the job, says emergency medicine physician Howard Schumaker, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Sparta, Wisconsin.
“We’ve seen everything from broken bones and amputations to unfortunate traumatic situations,” Dr. Schumaker says. “Many times farmers feel that due to the weather they need to hurry to complete their field work. It’s important to just slow down and make sure farm work gets done safely and efficiently.”
Dr. Schumaker outlines several important safety steps for harvest season and routine farm work:
- Regular inhalation of dust from grain bins, silos, milk vats and manure pits can cause respiratory issues such as bronchitis and other dangerous cardiac conditions. Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth can reduce risk.
- Farm vehicles such as tractors and all-terrain vehicles cause many injuries, particularly among children. Wearing a seat belt and helmet can help prevent traumatic brain injuries or even death. Children should be supervised and given only age-appropriate tasks and access to vehicles and other farm gear.
- Grain augers are one of the most dangerous pieces of farm equipment. Broken bones, electrocutions and amputations can occur if augers aren’t handled properly.
- Livestock is another common source of injury. Cattle and other farm animals can bite, kick, ram or trample someone without warning. Stay attentive and alert.
- Working long days and evenings in the field can cause dangerous levels of fatigue. Farmers may experience shortness of breath, stroke or heart attack. Try to take breaks, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep.
- Only enter a grain bin or gravity wagon when absolutely necessary, especially when grain is flowing. You can quickly become trapped and suffocate. If you must enter a grain bin, use a body harness and safety line secured outside the bin, and always have someone watching in case you are entrapped.
- Take special care to avoid falls, another common farm injury and the source of not only broken bones, but also head injuries and other physical trauma.
- Protect eyes from debris whipped up by farm machinery.
An additional tip, one that applies to non-farmers as well: “Please be extra cautious driving near farm machinery on the roadways,” Dr. Schumaker says. “Farm vehicles need to travel slowly on occasion. We just want everyone to be careful this harvest season.”