As we enter full-scale corn and soybean harvest for the 2013 growing season, it is a good time for farm families to review the farm safety procedures for the farming operation. More farm accidents occur during the fall than at any other time of the year, and usually involve one or more farm family members. Special care should be taken with children and senior citizens around farm and grain handling equipment, as these groups are the most vulnerable to farm accidents. The week of Sept. 15-21 was National Farm Safety Week,which is intended to bring extra focus on farm safety issues and priorities during the fall harvest season.
Federal and state statistics list agriculture as one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S. Farming is one of the few industries in which family members often times work and live on the same premises. This makes farm families at much higher risk for fatal and non-fatal injuries in the workplace, compared to most other professions. Based on USDA data, there were slightly over 1.8 million full-time workers in production agriculture on U.S. farms in 2010, and just over 1 million youth under 20 years of age residing on farms. Over half of the youth residing on farms performed some type of farm work, as well as an additional 230,000 youth that were hired to do work on farms.
Based on USDA data, 476 farmers and farm workers died from work-related injuries in 2010, which resulted in a fatality rate of 26.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. From 1995-2002, an average of 113 youth under 20 years old died annually from farm-related injuries. According to MN Department of Labor and Industry data, 23 of the 69 work-related deaths in the state in 2010 involved the agriculture industry. There were 121 traffic accidents involving tractors and farm machinery in 2010, resulting in 19 injuries and two deaths.
Tractor overturns are the leading cause of death for farmers and farm workers. The most effective way to prevent tractor-related injuries and deaths is to make sure that tractors have properly installed and maintained rollover protective structures (ROPS) in place. As recently as 2006, it was estimated that less than 60% of the approximately 4.4 million farm tractors that were in use in the U.S. were properly equipped with ROPS. It is also probably best not to have children riding on a tractor when the tractor will be in vulnerable positions for a rollover.
Fatigue is another major contributor to increased farm accidents in the fall. Research has shown that high levels of fatigue to be a major cause of increased farm accidents. Farm operators are usually in a hurry to finish harvest and follow-up tillage in a timely fashion before winter sets in, which can be especially challenging in a later harvest season with wetter-than-normal conditions. Some ways to reduce fatigue at harvest time include getting adequate sleep, scheduling planned work breaks, eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, getting some exercise and having enough help in place.
Another big danger in the fall is when farmers are moving equipment or hauling grain on highways and rural roads. Farmers should use flashing lights and slow moving vehicle signs when travelling on roadways. The non-farm public also needs to pay extra attention when driving on rural roads during harvest season, especially before and after work or school. Farm vehicles are larger and move much slower than cars, and the autumn sun is usually in a bad position during the times of heaviest traffic in the mornings and late afternoon on rural roads throughout the fall season. The best advice is to slow down, pay attention and stay off the cell phones while driving.