National Farm Safety & Health Week is Sept. 20-26. Since 1944, this annual event has aimed to raise awareness of how safety on farms and ranches can be improved. This year, the theme is, “Ag safety is not just a slogan, it’s a lifestyle.”
For people outside the profession, farming may seem like an occupation with few hazards. But in 2013, there were 500 farming fatalities – about 23 deaths per 100,000 workers.
Unlike most industries in the U.S., about 87 percent of farms are family-owned and operated, sometimes with multiple generations working alongside each other every day. Migrant families also account for a large number of seasonal farm workers. So for many farmers and ranchers, workplace safety and family safety are interchangeable terms.
Texas and Tractors
Texas is home to more farms and ranches than any other state in the nation, with 248,800 farms and ranches covering 130.2 million acres. Accordingly, a great number of people are at risk of injury in Texas, based solely on their occupation.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, tractor rollovers were the leading cause of farmer and farm worker fatalities in 2012. Rollover protection could prevent many such fatalities, but some farmers can’t afford to retrofit old tractors with modern rollover-prevention systems (ROPS).
The Texas Department of Insurance strongly discourages farmers from installing homemade ROPS and instead recommends that farmers contact their local tractor dealer or agriculture extension office to ask whether financial assistance is available for retrofitting.
Youth and Farms
Agriculture is the leading cause of workplace death for people under the age of 18, and nearly 60 percent of these fatalities occur on family farms.
Large corporate farms are under OSHA’s oversight and therefore are expected to abide by child labor laws that prohibit children under age 16 from certain types of farm and ranch work, including:
- Operating a corn picker, cotton picker, hay baler, crop dryer, or grain combine
- Working in a stall or animal pen near a bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes
- Handling or using explosives
- Working inside a bin with an oxygen-deficient atmosphere
- Handling or applying toxic chemicals
- Operating a trencher, forklift, or a tractor with over 20 PTO horsepower.
On smaller family farms, those OSHA laws don’t apply if parents are a child’s employer. Even so, those laws are good guidelines for parents who want to keep young workers safe.
Maintaining Safe Equipment
Texas State University’s office of Environmental Health, Safety & Risk Management offers numerous recommendations for how to safely operate equipment:
- Stationary equipment such as cotton gins, crushers, and sorters should be equipped with audible warning devices that alert people when the machine is about to start.
- Ensure all guards and shields are in place before operating any machinery.
- Never attempt to service a machine or vehicle while it’s running.
- Make sure anyone servicing equipment uses the appropriate lock-out/tag-out procedures, to prevent the machine from powering on.
- Do not carry passengers on tractors.
Machine operators who are focused, well rested, and properly trained can also help minimize the risk of injury for themselves and others.
The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety at Northeast Iowa Community College has overseen farm safety week since 1997, as the agricultural partner to the National Safety Council. This year, NECAS will feature a webinar on each day of safety week, covering topics of interest to ranchers and farmers.