Reaching many people in many ways
Agriculture has always been dangerous. Farmers and ranchers expect to come close to experiencing a serious injury sometime during their lives.
This perception is based on reality. The National Safety Council (NSC) consistently ranks agriculture as one of the three most hazardous occupations in the United States. Although the death rate has declined 28 percent during the last three decades for agricultural-related injuries, it's also gone down in mining (65 percent), construction (55 percent), and al other industries (59 percent). If this trend continues, agriculture will rank solely as the most hazardous industry.
A recent survey by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service showed 200,000 work-related injuries occurred on U.S. farms in 1993. Farm family members accounted for 65 percent of those injuries.
Studies also have shown that farmers and farm workers suffer from increased rates of respiratory diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin disorders, certain cancers, chemical toxicity, and heat-related illnesses. Based on NSC injury data and cost estimates per injury, the annual loss from disabling farm injuries could be as high as $4.06 billion, which includes lost wages, medical expenses, and production costs.
This high rate of injury, job-related illness, and disability, plus new state and federal regulations that require training about work hazards, increase the demand for farm safety education and research programs.
The USDA has been putting agriculture on the road to safety since the 1940s with support from its farm safety programs. It's also basic to the mission of the Cooperative Extension System (CES). Since 1975, line item funding for farm safety has been included in the Cooperative State, Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) budget. Although CSREES funds cannot completely support state activities, it is seed money that helps farm safety specialists develop programs in each state and Puerto Rico. Valuable alliances are forged with regional and local organizations. Farm safety specialists agree that CSREES funding is critical to help them maintain emphasis, stability, and continuity in an era of fluctuating or declining budgets.
These programs touch many people's lives. According to state CES reports from 1994, we know that more than 300,000 farm operators, employees, and family members participated in some type of CSREES-supported farm safety program. Follow-up surveys showed more than 80,000 participants adopted one or more safe farming practices, and more than 23,000 emergency medical and rescue personnel and farm family members learned how to better respond to an agricultural-related injury.
In this report, we've tried to show how CSREES-supported programs work in people's lives, as well as the diversity of CES programs offered throughout the nation. We've highlighted a few stories to show how many miles we've traveled on the road to safety.
The success of all types of agriculture is tied to the level of safety in the workplace. This good measure of safety is one of the few things that can ensure a sustainable future for American agriculture, and protect the millions of people who enter the agricultural workplace every day.
"For every serious agricultural injury, the victim will have experienced 10 close calls, 30 cases of personal property damage, and 600 instances when nothing happened at al. It’s like choosing one piece of candy from a bag of 641— 40 coated with Ex-LaxTM and one with poison. Would you take a piece? Of course not."
|Kevin Papp, Minnesota farmer who teaches other farmers about safety. His management techniques have made his operation one of the nation’s “100 Best Managed Farms”|
Kevin Paap's innovative and cost-effective farm management techniques have earned him a spot on Farm Futures magazine's list of "100 Best Managed Farms." That made his fellow farmers sit up and take notice. But as a farmer concerned with the bottom line, Paap is frustrated that it's so difficult to convince his colleagues about one of his most cherished management principles-safety.
"It's hard to show a farmer that not having an injury saves money," Paap says, "but it's really true."
In Minnesota, however, Paap has potential allies in the state's farm insurers who help him and extension safety specialist John Shutske deliver a safety message more effectively.
"People like Kevin and I can talk ourselves blue in the face but the state is too big, and there are too many farmers in it, for us to reach each one of them," Shutske says. "It's vital to use other people as 'multipliers' to carry our messages."
Working with a major farm insurance group, Shutske recently tested whether farmers who got insurance rebates for complying with standard safety recommendations were more likely to make changes than farmers who didn't. The surprising result? The money didn't matter-all it took was some on-site advice from a trusted source, like an insurance agent.
"Both the farmers who received a financial reward for making changes and those who didn't, complied with their agent's advice," Shutske explains. "We learned that it helps to choose the right messenger."
Minnesota's neighbors in Wisconsin get the message that preventing injuries and illnesses is part of farm management. "Just as farmers manage herds, crops, and employees, the modern farmer needs to build safety management into business planning," says extension safety specialist, Mark Purschwitz.
|Monica McGregor, Iowa 4-H and youth life skills leader whose Greene County club has used music to increase safety awareness, performing at fairs, in malls and in their own video.|
Ashley Lerch tells young people never to ride on
tractors. They see her wheelchair, hear how she fell
out of her dad's tractor cab when she was three, and they believe her.
"I want kids to know they can get hurt on a farm if they're not careful," says the 12-year-old Iowa girl who dreams of becoming a scientist, lawyer, or teacher. "Adults listen, too, because sometimes they think kids know more than adults."
Testimonials make farm hazards real for young people, says Ann Emken. She is an Illinois cooperative extension leader familiar with putting together programs to teach farm youth about safety. She doesn't have trouble finding injured farmers to talk about their experiences at summer day camps. Demonstrations such as a power take-off tearing a straw dummy to shreds or grain that buries a toy within seconds capture the attention of young learners; however, the most dramatic is hearing from their peers who have been hurt.
"When kids tell their story to other kids, it's a powerful message," Emken says. "The whole room gets quiet and you know something is sinking in."
Ashley's story, and others like hers, have reached thousands of young people at day camps, school presentations, and safety classes throughout the country. A survey of 20 states with a strong cooperative extension farm safety youth program shows that more than 102,000 students in 1994 and nearly 50,000 in 1995 actively participated in some type of farm safety activity at more than 2,500 locations. The effort represents countless hours from staff and an army of 2,400 trained volunteers.
Research reviewed in 1995 by the National Farm Medicine Center in Wisconsin shows the battle for farm youth safety has just begun.
Wilma Honig, 65-year-old farm wife and safety volunteer, Onega, Kansas. She also helped measure reaction time at displays, and older people were amazed at how many seconds it took them to react, often a major cause of accidents among senior farmers.
Twenty years ago, cooperative extension educators
in Missouri wanted to reach farm women. Their
one-day safety workshop for spouses was an overnight
success. Now farm women may be one audience
where safety takes the express lane.
"If anyone is going to take farming off the top of the 'most dangerous occupation' list, it will probably be a woman," says David Baker, who developed Missouri's course for women. "The farm wife is the safety and health leader on the farm. She has a direct impact on safety behaviors of all family members."
Lifestyle changes and pressure to remain competitive can place farm women in hazardous workplaces. They become part-time tractor drivers, grain haulers, and machinery operators, while keeping tabs on the family.
Six-month follow-up surveys of nearly 100 women who attended a Missouri workshop showed that most felt more prepared for an emergency. Eighty percent would attend another workshop, and half would send their spouse and children to similar programs. One-third had learned safer ways to operate tractors, such as not allowing riders, posting slowmoving vehicle emblems, and using tractors with rollover protection. "I have worked with equipment for years, but you gave new advice I will appreciate for years," one woman wrote.
Larry Piercy, Kentucky extension farm safety contact, also supports seminars funded by community leadership grants. He's seen women build coalitions and launch campaigns. In one effort, they told farm wives to place ear plugs, packed in disposable film canisters, in strategic locations with a note: "Please wear these now so you can hear me say 'I love you' when you're old."
Cooperative extension has been key in safety and health promotions spearheaded by the Tennessee Farm Bureau and its rural health affiliate. Since 1990, volunteers and extension workers have distributed 2,000 dust masks, 5,000 ear plugs, 300 safety glasses, and 100 first aid kits and fire extinguishers. The gear is packaged with an information booklet that shows how to select and where to find safety equipment.
"We work closely with extension in safety to provide expertise, and we need extension's support," says Charles Curtis, director of special programs for the Tennessee Farm Bureau. "You assume farm safety equipment is available in every county and in every town, but we found that wasn't always the case."
Older farmers are another new audience. Kansas educators have found farm safety to be a tough but needed message to bring to this group.
Research shows that between 30 and 40 percent of all agricultural deaths in Pennsylvania are farmers over age 65. In Kansas, that number climbs to near 70 percent in some years. Marvin Hachmeister, who directed the Older Kansans in Agriculture program that went to every county in the state, said farming is often a father, son and grandson operation, with Grandpa using older, less safe equipment. Grandpa's declining eyesight, hearing, coordination, and balance lead to injuries that heal slowly, if at all.
"Older farmers don't want to change, at least it's very difficult," Hachmeister says. "We learned that safety has to be a lifelong effort. You need bits and pieces of safety all the time, especially from someone in your own community. That's where extension plays an important role."
"My 13-year-old son might not be alive if it wasn't for Rutgers and Sea Grant Extension's safety training that my first mate had just completed. He saved my son's life that day at sea."
|Jim Harris, captain of the Abracadabra at Cape May, New Jersey. His son was overcome by fumes from a freon leak, fell into a chilled seawater tank, and was submerged in near-freezing water 20 minutes while 70 miles offshore. First mate Bill Peters had just learned how to treat hypothermia at a U.S. Coast Guard-approved extension and trade association safety course that certified him to lead monthly drills with the crew.|
Drivers on country roads in Ohio are used to seeing slow-moving vehicle signs, reflective tape, and flashing amber lights warning them to slow down. This safety equipment is displayed not only on tractors, but also on the black horse-drawn buggies driven by the state's Amish community.
"The Amish community actually came to us on this project and asked for our involvement," says Ohio safety leader Thomas Bean. He credits the community- extension partnership with the success of the project, designed to reduce the number of car-buggy collisions each year.
Community involvement is essential in any project where voluntary behavior change is sought, but it's particularly important when dealing with diverse communities and interests. Many extension specialists work closely with migrant community advocates to make seasonal farm work less hazardous.
In Idaho, for example, extension produced Spanish-language video tapes dealing with farm machinery and electrical safety. Before distribution, they were tested for clarity and simplicity at a migrant labor camp. Washington state extension works with a local community college to offer free classes in pesticide safety to about 100 Spanish-speaking migrants a year, operating out of churches near migrant labor camps.
There's more to agricultural diversity than language. New Hampshire extension collaborates closely with the timber industry and timberland owners' association to train professional loggers. With 400 trainees and nearly 150 graduates during its first two years, the program provides the opportunity for loggers and truckers to become voluntarily certified while gaining valuable safety information. The basics of felling, protective equipment, chainsaw maintenance and more are taught in English (and in French for loggers from northern New Hampshire). Tennessee and Pennsylvania have similar programs.
The program is only two years old and the workers' compensation rate for loggers has dropped significantly, says extension specialist Sarah Smith. "That didn't just happen; we've made a difference."
Nursery work is another industry where extension is making a difference. In Connecticut, specialist John Bartok is well aware of the muscle and nerve damage that can result from repetitive potting and pruning work and can disable greenhouse workers. Bartok's regular columns in greenhouse media cover such industry specifics as low-volume sprayers that allow greater control over pesticide sprays or wrist supports to help maintain proper hand position.
Trouble-shooting solutions don't have to be expensive, Bartok says.
"The other day I was talking with a grower in a greenhouse shipping area. One employee with a large push broom was sweeping the floor, creating a cloud of dust from spilled growing medium, which was carried through the building by the ventilation system. No one was wearing a dust mask, but disposable dust masks cost less than $1 a piece, and could be used several times."
They may be simple observations, but they can lead to life-preserving solutions. Whether it's with Spanish-speaking farmworkers in Texas, salmon fishers in Alaska, pork producers in Indiana, or potato harvesters in Maine, extension specialists are designing new ways to diversify their messages.
"I know our farm accident course saves lives in more ways than we can measure. After completing our course several years ago, one of our students decided he would start wearing his tractor seatbelt, which I'm convinced saved him when his own tractor rolled over about a year later."
|Gary Huitink, University of Arkansas agricultural engineer, teaches volunteer firefighters and rescue crews how to respond to farm accidents. One of his former students was driving a tractor equipped with rollover protection. When the tractor overturned, he was able to stop the engine, get out, and call for help because he was also wearing a seatbelt.|
Rhonda Shipp was surprised to
learn that unintentional injury was
the leading cause of death for
people under age 45 in her county
outside Yellowstone National Park.
Motor vehicles caused half of those
deaths; the rest were a surprise.
"We figured most deaths were from outdoor recreational activities near the park," said Shipp, a university extension educator and member of a county-wide health care coalition. "But emergency room records showed that many happened on ranches. There were plenty of groups working on other major causes of death, like heart disease, but no one was addressing farm safety."
Shipp and co-worker Jay Jenkins applied for a Wyoming cooperative extension farm safety grant, hired a local film crew, and staged common scenarios, such as a horse accident, an irrigation ditch drowning, and electrocution from overhead power lines. They mailed a copy of their 28-minute "Play It SAFE" video to each of the 400 ranch families in Park County.
"Curiosity played a hand in watching the video and the kids liked it," wrote one farmer. Another woman said she had prepared a new first aid kit and posted emergency numbers by all six telephones.
Dennis Murphy's First on the Scene program in Pennsylvania teaches farm families how they can be most helpful at a farm accident scene, too.
"Because of the isolation of farm work, victims might go undiscovered for hours and it may take as long as 20 to 30 minutes for emergency services to get there," Murphy said. "The decisions made by the person who discovers the accident can mean the difference between life and death."
Training of rescuers in New York has grown into FARMEDIC, a national training program. Each year, 200 new instructors pass an intense, 24-hour course, then provide their own training to more than 3,000 firefighters, rescue and emergency care providers.
Cooperative extension services that offer statewide training based on FARMEDIC include Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. State cooperative extension leaders introduced FARMEDIC several years ago in Oregon and Washington, which generated interest for a new, not-forprofit organization that now offers the training. "
A farm accident is like nothing else a medic faces, and normal rescue training just cannot prepare you for what you'll find at a farm accident," said FARMEDIC director Davis Hill.
"Crews might carry equipment several miles into a field where the farmer could die from trauma of the rescue," Hill said.
John Pollock, New York cooperative extension safety leader, conducts 25 to 30 programs for farm families each year. Sadly, participants have had to use what he's taught them.
"Several years ago, a farm wife found her husband entangled in a power take-off unit," Pollock recalled. "She turned off the machine, made it easier for him to breathe, and called emergency medical services. Although he died, she wrote us later to say there never was a time she doubted she had done everything she could for her husband."
This report was produced by cooperative extension services in Iowa and Minnesota under the direction of Charles V. Schwab, extension safety specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, and Laura Miller, editor, extension communications, Iowa State University; and John Shutske, farm safety specialist, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and Patricia Ohmans, program coordinator, Minnesota Extension Service, University of Minnesota-St. Paul. Design by Lynn Ekblad, Ames, Iowa.
Special thanks to the Iowa Department of Transportation for providing the "signs of safety" and to various extension state safety leaders for valuable assistance and guidance in collecting photographs and other information for this report.
Several photographs were reprinted courtesy of the following individuals and/or organizations: John Cross/The Free Press, Kevin Paap, page 1; Successful Farming, Monica McGregor, page 1; The Press of Atlantic City, Jim Harris and son, page 1; John M. Steiner/The Jamestown Sun, North Dakota tractor, page 2; David Peterson/The Des Moines Register, Ashley Lerch, page 4; Easter Seal Society of South Dakota, day campers, page 4; Jennifer Simonson, migrant children, page 6; and FARMEDIC, all photos used on page 8. The lower right photo on the front cover is Vermont's Safety Hound, a star in coloring books, videos, media announcements, and numerous personal appearances.
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This material is based on work supported by the CSREES, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under special project number 94-EDFA- 1-9002.
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