Aging is a naturally occurring process that has important
implications for agricultural safety and health.
Although many senior farmers and farm workers make some allowances for age-related reductions in physical strength, speed, agility, sight and hearing, they can no longer handle some routine work tasks.
Injury data and anecdotal evidence suggest that senior farmers become more susceptible to work-related injuries as they move into their 60s.
Age-Related Changes as Risk Factors in Farm Fatalities
Age-related sensory and physical impairments occur among senior farm operators at various rates. Eyesight, hearing, balance, muscle strength, and reaction time may remain good for some individuals who are well beyond age 65, while becoming significantly poorer in others.
As a person ages, there is a gradual decline in the ability of the eye to detect normal environmental stimuli. Because visual stimuli create awareness and guide information processing and reactions, impaired eyesight increases risk for senior farmers.
The ability to interact safely with the farm environment is highly dependent on the ability to see objects clearly at different distances, distinguish colors, quickly adapt to changing light conditions, and focus both eyes on an object.
Generally, to see objects as clearly as they did when they were age 20, many 45-year-olds need four times as much light. By age 60, the amount of light required to see clearly is double that needed by 45-year-olds.
Older individuals routinely work in situations with inadequate lighting.
They may operate farm machinery on overcast days and at dusk or at night. They may work inside darkened hay mows and grain storage, and climb and descend stairs in dimly lit buildings.
Another change associated with aging is hearing loss. All people eventually suffer some hearing loss as a result of aging, ear disease, and exposure to loud noises.
In addition to normal hearing loss, studies suggest that farm workers of all ages have higher levels of noise-induced hearing loss than the general population.
Such losses result from excessive exposure to loud noise from tractors, field and farmstead machinery, animals, and other sources.
Senior farmers who have difficulty hearing words or sounds may not be able to detect warning signals, such as the sounding of an automobile horn, the approach of a fast-moving animal, or the warning yell of a coworker. Hearing loss in each of these instances may lead directly to a fatality.
Sense of Balance
An individual's sense of balance is controlled by specialized structures (the vestibular system) located in the inner ear.
The structures provide information about the position of the head and also sense the speed and direction of body movements. With aging, the vestibular system becomes less effective in sensing body position and movement, thereby increasing the potential risk of falls for older persons.
A vestibular system whose function has been impaired may also result in the sensation of dizziness in some individuals, again putting senior persons at risk for falls.
Some situations in which the loss of balance and a feeling of dizziness increase the risk of injury for senior farmers include:
The information and recommendations contained in this publication
are believed to be reliable and representative of contemporary
expert opinion on the subject material. The Farm Safety Association
Inc. does not guarantee absolute accuracy or sufficiency of
subject material, nor can it accept responsibility for health
and safety recommendations that may have been omitted due to
particular and exceptional conditions and circumstances.
Copyright © 2002 Farm Safety Association Inc.
22-340 Woodlawn Road West, Guelph, Ontario (519) 823-5600.
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More