August 18, 2021
Harvest is right around the corner, which means long hours using big equipment. But you can still think safety.
Any individuals on the farm are at risk at any time, says Amy Rademaker, program coordinator for Rural Health and Farm Safety at Carle Health, Champaign, Ill. And while farmers and regular farmworkers might be more knowledgeable about hazards, they can also become overconfident. Beyond the regulars, young people with less experience or without proper supervision can be at risk, as can migrant workers with a communication barrier.
No age group is more frequently injured than another, and statistics are less telling because smaller farms are not consistently required to report incidents. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 416 farmers and farmworkers died from a work-related injury in 2017. Transportation accidents, including tractor overturns, were the leading cause of death.
To avoid becoming one of those statistics, Rademaker recommends farmers and farmworkers take these steps:
1. Rest up. Lack of sleep can slow response time and make it harder to focus. This raises a chance of an incident. Easier said than done, but try to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night to be well rested.
2. Take a break. Make sure to stop operating equipment frequently and get out of the cab. This provides an opportunity to get out, stretch and recharge.
3. Check on your neighbors — and yourself. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Do not isolate yourself too much, and check in with others.
4. Inspect equipment. Manufacturers put safety guards and shields on equipment for a reason. Make sure all equipment is in good working condition and all guards are in place. Also, make sure lighting and markings work and are clean every time equipment is driven down the road.
5. Travel safely. Follow protocols. For example, remove the combine head before driving down the road to another field. Avoid driving in the busy travel windows of 7 to 8 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. Move over when safe to do so, and let traffic pass. Do not wave other vehicles around — let the other driver make that decision. On the road or in the field, remember to put the phone down and limit distractions.
6. Protect yourself. Remember to wear personal protective equipment such as eye protection, hearing protection, a dust mask and/or a body harness.
7. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Farmers and workers should understand safety protocols such as wearing proper protection, understanding blind spots and responding to an emergency. Consider mapping out each field so you have accurate directions in case of an emergency.
8. Be prepared. Prevention is best, but preparation is important, too. Have a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher easily accessible, and make sure workers know where they are and how to use them.
Accidents may also occur when working with equipment such as grain bins, PTOs and augers.
“Corn chaff and bean dust make everything slick, so be careful when climbing a bin,” Rademaker says — and when you’re on the ground. “Of all falls, same-level falls are the most common. Be careful in the field with cornstalks and other tripping hazards you might have around the farm.”
Never enter a truck, wagon or bin when someone’s loading or unloading grain, Rademaker says. If you absolutely have to enter a bin, do the following:
9. Lock out, tag out, try out. Shut and lock the power off and keep the key. This assures that no one else can turn the power on while you are in the bin or working on the bin. Then, try turning the power on to make sure the lockout was successful.
10. Have help on standby. Always have an observer on the outside monitor you and call for help immediately if something goes wrong.
11. Use personal protective equipment. Use a body harness, anchored lifeline and belay system.
Rademaker reminds farmers to model the Stop, Think, Act reminder developed by Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, an organization committed to protecting workers and businesses in Ontario, Canada. Consider what could go wrong and whether you understand the task. Then, follow proper safety procedures, or stop if the action cannot be done safely.
Keep young people safe
According to Marshfield Research, a child dies in an ag-related incident about every three days, and every day, 33 children are injured in ag-related accidents.
“To me, that’s very powerful,” Rademaker says. “As a mother myself, I understand the importance of keeping our kids safe. We want our kids to love agriculture as we do, and we never think it can happen to our kids — but it can and it does.”
Young people do not have the same farm experience as other individuals. Children completing farm work should be properly trained. Always supervise kids who are working or even playing on the farm, Rademaker says. Young minds can be curious and want to explore equipment on the farm. Consider covering grain bin ladders and other pieces of equipment to avoid incidents.
Remember, young people follow by example.
“Model proper behavior such as never stepping over an auger or PTO,” she says. “Be mindful that children may be watching your every move.”
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