Stop and Proceed with Caution During Harvest Season

September 5, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

On a cold, November day, a mid-western farmer was digging postholes on his farm when his coat sleeve became entangled in the machinery. In an instant, his left arm dangled by a few tendons below the elbow, and his spinal cord was bruised. This 45-year-old farmer now has use of both hands, but must use a wheelchair and is considered quadriplegic.

In an interview the farmer considered himself to be somewhat safe, but admitted that he still held on to some unsafe work practices. He admitted that he had been doing some things for so many years that he didn’t think of them as dangerous.

According to the National Safety Council farming is currently the most hazardous industry in the United States. Despite advances in equipment safety and more farm safety educational campaigns, farming has not realized the reductions in injuries that construction and other industries have. Farmers still get caught in augers, pinned under heavy equipment, entangled in combines and suffocated in grain bins. Injury surveys have shown that farmers are six times more likely to be killed in work-related accidents than workers in other industries.

The leading cause of death and traumatic injuries continues to be tractors and farm machinery. With harvest season upon us now is a critical time to slow down and proceed with caution. Being safe is not complicated but it does require diligence and consistency. It is a matter of adhering to safety procedures for equipment operation, providing training and close supervision of employees, keeping children out of the workplace, and establishing safety as a core value.

The time pressures are often cited as a reason for so many farm accidents. It is interesting to note that most injuries and accidents happen during planting and harvesting when the time pressures peak. Farmers are rushing to get a lot done in a limited time and working longer hours. The pressure is certainly greater when farmers are also working off the farm. This is the case on more than 3 out of every 4 farms in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Production agriculture lacks a uniform work force. We have the young and elderly working alongside the breadwinner. There are people with varying degrees of intellect, skills and physical abilities. The situation is critical with children and aging farmers who want to remain active. With children we need to be ever cognizant of cognitive and developmental issues and with the aging farmer we need to recognize that senses and abilities are not what they use to be. It is not surprising that the risks are higher for the young and the elderly. That means extra supervision is needed and more care should be exercised when assigning tasks.

Prepare an emergency action plan and review it often with all family members and workers on your farm. Include steps to handle various incidents that could occur on your farm to include providing first aid care and treatment, tractor and machinery shut off procedures, fire extinguisher use, and develop a communication plan to call 911 and other necessary resources in an emergency.

Take time right now to think about safety in your farm business. Develop a sound safety philosophy and written plan and hold employees accountable. Remember that accidents don’t just happen – they are caused. That means they are preventable!

Safety is a value! Make it a core value on your farm and your farm will be a safer place to live and work. It also means that you will be reaping safety in addition to a crop this harvest season!

Submitted by Ron Jester on behalf of Mid-Atlantic Agrability/Delaware Cooperative Extension