ASSE Targets Agricultural Industry Injuries and Illnesses

Aug. 10, 2004
With thousands of farmers being severely injured and hundreds more dying from work-related accidents each year, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is urging farmers to be aware of and use injury prevention measures to help reduce accidents.

Following the mining industry, agriculture is the second most dangerous occupation in the United States, with a death rate of 22.7 people per 100,000 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most farm-related accidents are caused by machinery, with tractor accidents accounting for a high rate of fatalities.

According to the National Consumers League (NCL), agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers. Citing Department of Labor statistics, the NCL notes that among young agricultural workers aged 15-17; the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk of that for young workers in other workplaces.

Recently, when a young worker was doing maintenance work on a large tub grinder, his leg was sucked into the machine's rotor causing severe leg injuries. An eight year-old boy was accidentally crushed beneath a forklift truck driven by a family member last year.

"Many tragedies occurring on farms can be prevented. A lot of farm deaths are tractor related, with the most common cause being tractor overturns," said Dr. Terry Wilkinson, ASSE director of Member/Region Affairs and agriculture safety specialist.

He noted that operating tractors equipped with an approved Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) along with wearing a seat belt can help prevent tractor tragedies. The seat belt keeps the tractor operator in the zone of protection provided by the ROPS. Additional passengers on tractors, especially children, can lead to tractor-related fatalities. Extra riders are at greater risk of falls and being run over.

"Other equipment-related injuries can be prevented by making sure all guards and shields are in place and functional," Wilkinson added. "Farmers should familiarize themselves with the equipment operator's manual, the best source for information for preventing tractor and farm equipment-related injuries and fatalities. Conducting regular equipment inspections can also help prevent farm-related injuries by detecting and fixing equipment problems before use."

In addition:

  • Working around Power Take-Off (PTO) machinery can be dangerous if workers are wearing loose clothing, as an entanglement could occur.
  • Caution is urged when working around fruit and grain bins, silos and livestock. Officials recommend that children 16 and under not work in these areas due to the high safety hazards, unless they are properly trained and closely supervised.
  • Farmers handle a variety of agricultural chemicals and other toxic substances. Many materials are hazardous and can be fatal if not used and stored properly.
  • Farmers are at great risk of contracting respiratory problems due to the amount of dust and chemicals they breathe in on a daily basis. Wearing protective equipment, which is readily available, can prevent acute and chronic respiratory illnesses. Protective equipment such as mechanical filters and chemical cartridge masks are air-purifying respirators that help protect lungs from harmful gases and dusts. Other farming health hazards include sun and noise exposure.

In an effort to assist the farming community, ASSE offers these following safety tips:

  • Develop an awareness of hazards on the farm and prepare for emergency situations including machinery entanglements, fires, vehicle accidents, electrical shocks from equipment and wires and adverse health effects from chemical exposures.
  • Reduce the risk of injury and illness with preventive measures. Read and follow instructions in equipment operator's manuals. Follow instructions on product labels for safe use, handling and storage.
  • Enroll children in local farm safety camps. Be especially alert to hazards that may affect children and the elderly.
  • Conduct routine inspections of your equipment to determine problems and potential failures that may contribute to or cause an accident.
  • Conduct meetings with employees and family members to assess safety hazards, discuss potential accident situations, and outline emergency procedures.
  • Properly maintain tools, buildings and equipment.
  • Provide approved Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS).
  • Use seat belts while the tractor is in operation on tractors equipped with a ROPS.
  • Make sure guards for farm equipment are put back on after maintenance to protect workers from moving machinery parts.
  • Review material safety data sheets and labels that come with all chemical products. Communicate information concerning hazards to all workers. Prevent pesticide poisonings and dermatitis caused by chemicals by ensuring that protective measures recommended on the labels are taken.
  • Take the necessary precautions to prevent entrapment and suffocation caused by unstable surfaces of grain storage bins, silos, wagons and other storage structures.
  • Be aware that methane gas, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can be present in unventilated grain silos and manure pits in quantities sufficient to cause asphyxiation or explosion.

"Farm hazards can be identified and corrected by utilizing a farm hazard checklist," Wilkinson said. "We urge farmers to contact their state or local Cooperative Extension or Farm Bureau office which provide programs such as farm safety camps, resources and training aimed at preventing farm-related injuries."

As most farms do not fall under the auspices of OSHA rules and regulations, federal laws pertaining to hazardous jobs for young workers do not apply. Nearly 2 million children live and/or work on farms. On average, more than 100 children die every year from farm-related accidents.

To assist young workers and their parents, ASSE developed a free brochure titled, "Workplace Safety Guide for New Workers," which provides tips on how young workers and parents can identify workplace hazards and has key contact information. The brochure, along with farm safety tips and facts, is available at by clicking on "ASSE Newsroom," or by contacting [email protected] or your local ASSE chapter.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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