By Dee Jepsen
National Farm Safety and Health Week is September 16‐22, 2018. This annual promotional week commemorates the hard work, diligence, and sacrifices made by our nation’s farmers and ranchers.
The 2018 theme is “Cultivating the Seeds of Safety.” During fall harvest, it is good to reflect on the bounties ahead, by practicing safety throughout the seasons. Farmers, farm families, and farm workers need to know they are valued for the food, fuel and fiber they produce. The safety theme can remind us of the unexpected tragedy a death or serious injury can play, and how it can also impact our business and our entire agricultural community.
Over the past 10 years, 128 Ohio farmers lost their lives doing what they love to do — farm. While the number of farm fatalities is decreasing from what they were 20 years ago, 128 deaths are still too many! This article will help us see who is affected by farm tragedies, and how these deaths have occurred.
Farm injuries hurt all ages
The fact about agricultural safety is farm hazards don’t discriminate against age, gender, or commodity. Farm injuries can happen to anyone, even those who do not live on a farm. For example, some people visit farms as friends, relatives, or for fishing and hunting access. It is often difficult to separate the family and recreational side of the farm from the occupational or business side of the property. Agritourism operations have also increased the sheer number of people on farms. However, injuries sustained at these locations are not a part of the collected data, unless the person was performing “farm work.”
It is understood that farming is a lifestyle, as much as it is an occupation. This changes the workforce by accommodating workers of all ages. In very few work place settings can you find young children and retired seniors working together. These working relationships are not just embraced by the farm culture, they are often encouraged and are a part of the culture that builds strong communities. Yet because of this age spread, injury rates are higher than in other occupations.
The seasons of farm injuries
If you were asked which season is the most hazardous for Ohio farmers, which would you choose: A) spring, B) summer, or C) fall?
Rarely do people think of summer as a dangerous time on the farm. In the past 10 years, the fatalities by month chart shows the steady rise of injuries over the summer months, leading to fall harvest. Summer takes into account multiple activities happening on the farm. It includes planting — usually second crop soybeans, harvesting of small grains (wheat and oats), baling hay and straw, working with livestock, and many field related activities like mowing, spraying, cultivating, and tile work.
Identifying the culprit of our farm deaths
Grain bin deaths and entrapments continue to be monitored. In the past 10 years, these types of incidents represent 7% of all Ohio farm deaths.
ATVs and UTVs are steadily growing in the Ohio database for contributing factors for deaths and injuries. The vehicles’ size and function make them easily operated on many farms. Yet their stability is a concern for rollovers and crushing injuries.
By far, tractor and machinery related deaths in the state are the top reasons for concern. Together, these two categories account for over half of all Ohio farm deaths. Looking just at the tractor deaths, rollovers contribute to 54% of the total number, runovers contribute 24%, and roadway, PTO, and “other” contribute to the remaining 22%.
The fatality rate on Ohio farms continues to show a steady decline. This is good news! Over a ten-year period, an average of 12 farmers lose their life each year to production agriculture practices. Another 15,000 farm workers incur injuries of some nature while doing farm chores.
Farm safety campaigns can impact safety
Effective safety campaigns are needed at all levels within a community, and throughout the season. These promotional events can remind farm workers of the benefit for adopting safe work practices. Partnerships for safety can include equipment dealers, local cooperatives, school programs, emergency and rescue units just to name a few.
Even non-farm community agencies are encouraged to be part of the efforts. Faith based and neighborhood networks can be part of the safety solution by supporting safety events, sponsoring training classes or helping to purchase specialized rescue equipment.
People within the community can express their support for keeping farmers safe by re-evaluating their traffic safety manners. The motoring public can improve roadway safety by slowing down when approaching farm equipment, understand traffic patterns to and from the central markets, and avoid cutting off livestock trailers and grain semis which cannot operate with the same agility as a compact car.
Working cooperatively towards a farm safe environment is the underlying theme of the National Safety and Health Week. Knowing how injuries occur to farmers can help us understand how to prevent these injuries and mishaps. Working together, farmers and rural communities can cultivate the success of a safe farming season.
Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor for Agricultural Safety and Health, can be reached at 292-6008 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is provided by The Ohio State University Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.