A Closer Look at National Farm Safety and Health Week

The theme for this year’s National Farm Safety and Health Week — "Protecting What Matters" — is one that is near and dear to this farm mom’s heart, because what matters to me are my kids, my family, my employees.

One might think that farm safety and health is a contemporary issue due to agriculture's modernization and mechanization. In fact, it was 1944 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared an annual National Farm Safety and Health Week to be the third week of September.

There’s good reason to promote farm safety — it's ranked as one of the most dangerous occupations. From moving parts and big equipment to sun and chemical exposure, farmers have a responsibility to ensure that their families and employees — as well as themselves — are educated and protected. Here are some of the biggest health and safety concerns for farmers.

Moving Parts

This is the biggest risk for injury on a farm. Power Take Off (PTO) equipment can snag loose clothing, shoe laces and even jewelry, resulting in loss of limb or life. Running at 1,000 RPMs, PTOs will pull clothing in at a rate of 8 feet per second. Those who are driving or working around equipment of any size, including a simple lawn mower, need to be acutely aware of all moving parts and take the precautions needed to be safe while in use. Our children all take tractor-safety training and receive a certification of completion.

Sun Exposure

We all know that sun exposure contributes to skin cancer. UV-exposed farmers and farm workers have a 40 percent higher risk of basal cell carcinoma than indoor workers. Sunscreen should become a habit just like brushing teeth or putting on deodorant. It’s the easiest protection that just takes a few minutes a day.

Eye and Hearing Protection

Ear plugs or muffs should also be part of the “uniform” for working in any unenclosed tractor or when working around loud equipment such as a chain saw. Similarly, protective eye wear is a must for jobs that could result in flying debris.

Chemical Exposure

Pesticides are all designed to do one thing, and that is kill something. Pesticides — whether organic or synthetic — are all labeled with Agricultural Use Requirements that include Worker Protection Standards. These standards dictate what personal protective equipment, or PPE, must be used while mixing or spraying. Each pesticide is also labeled for a “re-entry interval” (REI), which details the post-spray time when it's not safe to re-enter a field without PPE.

Grain Bins

Grain bins look benign but they are a serious safety consideration, as entrapment in a flowing grain bin will lead to suffocation. Children should not play around them, and no one should ever work in grain bins alone — it's a job that requires two people, with one serving as a monitor for the person inside.

Road Safety

Finally, National Farm Safety and Health Week is also meant to educate the public about safety issues involving farm equipment. Farm equipment is slow, typically traveling between 15-30 mph. Cars traveling at 55 mph can catch up with tractors within seconds. With distracted drivers in abundance today, accidents between farm equipment and cars is all too commonplace. Drivers should look for equipment with the Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem — which means the vehicle travels at less than 25 MPH — and pass with caution. Tractors pulling long or wide implements also needs lots of turning space —don’t ride up or try to slide by a tractor you think is turning left when it's really swinging wide to turn right. Be patient — that farmer could be me, my husband or my kids. Share the road so we can grow your food.

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Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD
Jennie Schmidt, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and farmer in Maryland's Eastern Shore. Read her blog, The Foodie Farmer. Follow her on Twitter.