According to statistics, farming is among the most dangerous occupations in the world! It accounts for hundreds of deaths each year, caused by the many hazards that can be found in the work environment. Farming hazards can spring from conditions such as out-of-date equipment, dangerous tools, toxic gasses, muscular-skeletal injuries, and more. Along with the mortality rates, millions of non-fatal injuries are recorded every year including loss of limb, loss of hearing, maiming or scarring, and more. As we raise awareness of the most common issues and find ways to fix them, we can greatly reduce injuries within the agricultural industry.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into agriculture as we look into 3 major areas of farming:
- Silo/grain bin
- Safety in the fields
Within these three areas, we will also discuss:
- Common issues
- Safe practices
- Stories and examples
Farming can seem daunting. It is hard, demanding work that comes with many risks. As you familiarize yourself with your environment, work cautiously, and make safety a priority, you can create a secure and happy workplace.
Today, workplace accidents account for nearly 5000 deaths a year. This accounts to one employee dying every 90 minutes from a work-related injury- most of which are preventable! The need for safety is not a new issue though, labor has always come with risks that for a long time, seemed unavoidable. </p><p>
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was organized to protect employees’ rights to a safe and healthful workplace. Before they began in the early 1970s, safety was a low priority in the workplace. This was because, in most cases, it was far cheaper to replace a dead or injured employee than it was to provide proper safety equipment. </p><p>
Once OSHA was organized, much to the relief of employees everywhere, safety became federal law. We quickly went from 38 fatalities a day in 1970, to only 15 a day in 2019. This is a marvelous improvement! And it can continue to get better as we develop better practices, making safety a part of our everyday culture.
Worker Resources for Safety
Employees have a right to a safe work environment protected by federal law and are entitled to:
- Receive health and safety training to protect them on the job
- Receive personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Review records of past injuries within the company
- Receive protection from toxic chemicals
- Work with properly guarded machinery
- Know the results of risk assessment tests
Any serious hazards to health or safety should be reported to a leader by employees and resolved as soon as possible. Employees should speak to their employers first about safety concerns. Although if the concern remains unresolved, filing a complaint may be necessary.
How to File a Complaint With OSHA
There are several ways to file a formal complaint. You can:
- File a complaint with OSHA digitally through their website at this link
- Fill out an official complaint form and send it to them through fax or email
- Call your local OSHA office or OSHA headquarters at 800-321-6742
- Locate your local OSHA office and make a visit in person.
Upon filing a complaint, an OSHA agent will be sent to your workplace and conduct an inspection to get the issue resolved. Your name will not be disclosed to your employer as the one who filed the complaint.
Whistleblowers bring attention to illegal activity such as complaint-retaliation and help OSHA to solve the issue. In the past, some employers have gotten upset with their employees for filing a complaint. In some cases, they have lashed out at their employees by demoting them, cutting their hours, pay, or even firing them. This behavior is illegal and is a serious offense. If an employee is punished for filing a complaint, it is appropriate to file a whistleblower complaint to OSHA to resolve the issue
OSHA is a great resource. Its purpose is to ensure a safe and healthful work environment while protecting the rights of employees. However, always remember that most problems can be solved through proper communication. Employees should communicate their concerns and needs to their employer, especially when it regards their safety.</p><p>
Employees should notify their employer about tools or machines that need to be updated, toxic environments, musculoskeletal problems, or other hazards. Good communication between employers and employees can help ensure a safe and comfortable workplace.
Silo/Grain Bin Safety
Grain handling facilities are in charge of processing and shipping bulk raw agricultural materials such as wheat, corn, and oats. The general nature of grain can be very hazardous. It might turn to quicksand when walked on, create dust which fills the air and infects the lungs, it can even combust! In this section, we’ll cover the precautions needed to prevent these accidents from happening.
A while back, OSHA released eight steps to grain bin safety.
- Turn off and lockout equipment before leaving bins or performing maintenance
- Never walk down the grain to make it flow
- Always wear a body harness with a lifeline when entering a grain bin
- Place a trained observer outside of the bin in case of an emergency
- Test the air in the bin before entering
- Always wear filtered face protection just in case
- Control the accumulation of grain dust through housekeeping
- Do not enter a bin where grain is built up on the side
- Use a safety harness and anchored lifeline when entering a bin
Following these steps will set a good foundation for your workplace by helping prevent many accidents in grain handling.
Suffocation is the leading cause of death in grain bins. When loose grain begins to shift, it only takes seconds for someone to become completely buried. Additionally, 53% of burials lead to suffocation and death.
When entering a grain bin, always observe the following:
- Never walk on loose grain without proper safety equipment
- Never enter a grain bin without supervision
- Avoid walls of grain that could collapse
- Avoid machinery that could entangle your hair or clothes
- Always lockout/tagout before entering or leaving
- Employers should ensure a permit is issued each time a worker enters a bin. This certifies that all the proper safety precautions have been implemented
Unfortunately, grain bin fatalities are never “freak accidents.”. They simply come as a result of not following safety procedures. Do all you can to prevent them by following the guidelines in this article and within your company.
Consider this example: At 10:30 AM, Employee #1 entered a grain bin alone to break corn loose while the bin was being unloaded. Time passed, and the employer realized he had not seen Employee #1 in a while. After searching the grain bin, employee #1 was recovered at 4:00 PM, having been engulfed in grain. He was declared dead on site.
In this story, the employee violated several safety standards that, if followed, could have saved his life. For starters, you should always make sure others are aware of you before entering a grain bin. In this case, it sounds likely that no one knew where he was, seeing that he wasn’t found until hours after the incident. Additionally, it would have been smart to lockout/tagout before entering, as the operating bin could have contributed to the collapsed wall of corn.
Dust exposure, while working in a grain facility, is inevitable. Like most bacteria, the human body is built to tolerate a certain amount. However, overexposure to grain dust can cause serious long-term health problems. Grain dust is generally made from a mixture of:
- Plant matter
- Animal hair
- Insect parts
These materials can infect and degrade your lungs over a period of time. This can lead to diseases such as farmer’s lung or cancer.
There are many measures you can take to help limit air pollution in your workplace. Some examples include:
- Installing an air filter.
- Wear a dust mask – Make sure the mask is approved and certified to be effective. Such as an N-95 dust mask.
- Take frequent breaks in fresh air.
- Limit grain damage on your combine. The less the grain is damaged during harvest, the less dust it will create.
- Speak to your doctor if you feel sick – If you suspect a problem is arising, it is best to take care of it early while the problem is still young.
Grain explosions are a frightening possibility. As grain dust accumulates on surfaces and in the air, it can become more combustible than gasoline. Incidents usually result in the loss of many lives, or at the very least severe property damage.
Fortunately, grain explosions are occurring much less frequently as companies are taking measures to control their work environment. To continue to prevent explosions, be sure to:
- Control grain dust and ignition sources in grain elevators
- Keep open flames away from areas with high dust concentration
- Keep the air as clean as possible.
You need access to lots of high places in a grain facility. Employees should use their best judgment to assess whether or not an area is safe. If the risk of falling seems high, avoid that area. Otherwise, avoid heights if you are:
- Or if conditions are windy
Mechanical equipment, such as grain elevators, are responsible for many injuries in the workplace, from small abrasions to the loss of life or limb. Employers should provide safety training based on the equipment being used and encourage proper use of the machine.</p><p>
As a general note, loose clothing or hair is notorious for getting tangled up in moving parts. To combat this, always tie up hair and remove loose articles of clothing before operating machinery.
Overheating is one of the most common dangers found while working in the fields. Heat exhaustion, sickness, or heat stroke, are common ailments and can occur quickly if you are not careful. In recent years, OSHA launched a heat illness prevention campaign, where they emphasized the importance of water, rest, and shade. These three items have proven to be the most useful way of keeping your body cool.
Heatstroke is the most serious danger connected to heat. When it occurs, your body becomes unable to control its temperature. Sweating mechanisms fail, the body is unable to cool off, and eventually your brain shuts down. Watch for the early signs of heatstroke and cool off before it gets too late.
Early signs include:
- Profuse sweating
- Very high body temperature
- Slurred speech
If ignored, the early signs of heatstroke can evolve into:
- Loss of consciousness
Additionally, the sun does not need to be out for heat stroke to occur. When you begin to feel the effects of heatstroke, always assume the worst. If this employee had taken a moment to rest and cool off, he could have prevented a fatal accident.
Always listen to your body. If you start feeling overheated, find some shade, take a rest, and drink plenty of cool water. As soon as you begin exhibiting any signs of heatstroke, seek medical help immediately.
Tractors come in many different sizes and serve many different purposes. Therefore, it is generally up to the judgment of the employer to assess the level of risk and train their employees accordingly. Conversely, it is up to employees to operate these machines responsibly and always follow the guidelines they have been given to stay safe.
There are many dangers associated with tractors. Some examples of common incidents include:
- Using skid steers incorrectly
- Accidents involving improper hitching
- Clothing and hair becoming entangled in moving parts
- Carbon monoxide poisoning.
Most of these accidents can be avoided by doing three simple things:
- Maintain the machines. Replace parts that become worn or broken. This especially helps protect the operator from carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Keep a distance. Always keep the area clear while a tractor is running. Never walk alongside a tractor or get near moving parts.
- Install roll-over protective structures.Many incidents with tractors lead to a rollover. These structures help limit any injury that might occur.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are commonplace on a farm and are generally used for transportation. Most accidents from ATVs happen because of irresponsible driving. Their fast and seemingly indestructive nature makes for a fun ride, but they can easily become harmful if you are not cautious. </p><p>
Despite their names, ATVs are simply not made for all terrains. Avoid deep trenches, rugged terrain, mud puddles, and freeways. Extreme environments such as these can cause the ATV to get stuck or tip over. </p><p>
The likelihood of an accident is increased with passengers. ATVs are generally made for one rider. There are attachments available to allow more riders, but caution should still be taken, as this can affect their stability.
Noise can become a serious problem if you work around heavy machinery. In fact, farming has the highest risk for hearing loss of any occupation (NASD). Eliminating noise completely is impossible because farms are loud environments by nature. However, there are things that can be done to reduce noise to where it is no longer harmful.
In indoor areas such as storage hangers, machine shops, or garages, the sound that comes from machines tends to echo off the walls. This multiplies the decibel levels. To reduce noise while working inside, begin by:
- Installing vibration isolating pads underneath the legs of machines.
- Install noise-absorbing panels on or in the walls
- Employers provide employees with noise-reducing headphones.
Conversely, noise tends to be less of a problem when working outdoors. However, there are still many environments where it can be harmful such as working in or around loud machines. Employees should be given PPE in any situation where noise could be harmful to them.
Remember, the less noise the better. Even small amounts of noise over long periods of time can become grating and even harmful. Take measures to reduce it as much as possible.
Safety Around Livestock
Working with livestock can be tricky and unpredictable. Animals are complex creatures who, regardless of proper maintenance or good living conditions, can act dangerously. Despite this risk, there are many things any livestock farmer can do to help prevent potential accidents.
Animal Transmitted Disease
Livestock animals are unlike common household pets. They spend their time in fields, containers, and pens, where they are likely to pick up diseases that can be harmful to humans. These are known as zoonotic diseases. </p><p>
<a href=”https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals.html” target=”_blank”>Zoonotic</a> diseases are normally caused when the animal comes in contact with bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. The pathogen is then spread to us through biting, scratching, or even simple contact. Zoonotic diseases also are spread through other means such as mosquitoes and ticks, or by ingesting contaminated meat. COVID-19 is believed to be an example of a zoonotic disease. </p><p>
In order to prevent zoonotic diseases, it’s important to have animals checked by a vet on a regular basis. Have them vaccinated against common diseases such as anthrax or avian flu, and make cleaning and disinfecting the livestock a routine habit. </p><p>
Employees should also practice proper hygiene any time livestock is involved. It is advised that you wash your hands several times a day, especially before you begin and after you finish your working day. Avoid contact with the eyes or face after touching livestock. On top of that, use proper protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves or a face mask to further reduce the spread of pathogens. </p><p>
Employers should train their employees on the most appropriate practices based on their environment. This might include recommending certain vaccines, sanitizing surfaces prone to bacteria, enforcing hand washing, along with other hygienic practices.
Animal behavior can be difficult to predict. Some animals can become aggressive based on the time of year or the other animals surrounding them. Just like a leader who knows and understands how to manage their team, it is important for a farmer to know and understand their animals. They should keep note and observe which animals may be prone to aggression, which animals tend to fight with each other, and which animals get along well together. Understanding the way your animals behave can help prevent accidents before they occur. </p><p>
Another way of reducing behavioral risk comes by improving quality of life for the animals. Livestock, especially cows, become far more aggressive if they are:</p>
- Anxious or afraid
<p>As a farmer finds ways to alleviate these issues, they are guaranteed a higher level of security to their employees by creating safe and comfortable conditions. Actions such as prodding or herding are important ways of keeping livestock organized, but should be avoided if a situation seems to be growing tense.
Some of the most susceptible people to injury around livestock are new employees. Oftentimes, they are unsure of how to treat the animals, and the animals are unsure of how to treat them. Employers should spend ample time with new employees, conducting safety training and helping them become familiarized with their tasks. The following are common mistakes made by new employees:
- Lifting or pushing hesitant animals
- Forgetting to secure and latch containment areas
- Surprising animals, such as approaching from behind
- Being aggressive or prodding when it’s uncalled for.
Employers should particularly emphasize these items during training, and see to it that their new employee is safe and comfortable.