As a beginning farmer, you need to know that agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the United States, according to worker death rate statistics from the National Safety Council. Agricultural workers, including farm owner/operators, family workers and hired workers, are five times more likely to suffer a fatal injury than the national work force as a whole. In addition to the 1,200 fatal injuries suffered in 1992, agricultural workers suffered an estimated 140,000 injuries serious enough to cause at least on-half day lost from normal activities.
You can prevent injuries on your farm be being proactive and consciously deciding to have a safe operation. Hazard control is the most effective way to do this; you need to search out and eliminate or reduce the hazards on your farm. Safe behaviors to avoid hazards are a secondary but necessary method of injury prevention when hazards cannot be eliminated.
This publication is intended to help you become aware of potential hazards and the most basic ways of eliminating or avoiding them. It is important that you understand the basics and start off your operation with a positive safety orientation. However, there may be hazards on your particular farm that are not mentioned here, and you should acquire more detailed information about all farm hazards on your farm. For more information, read your machinery owner's manuals and contact your local county Extension office or your state Extension agricultural safety and health specialist at your land-grant university.
The tractor runover, when the tractor runs over the victim, is the second most common fatal tractor-related injury. Many runover injuries involve extra riders who fall off; many of these are children. Other runovers often involve unseen bystanders, such as small children. Preventing runover injuries means never allowing extra riders, being aware of the locations of all bystanders, and keeping small children away from work areas.
Tractors and machines operated on the road should always have proper lighting and markings, such as amber flashers and SMV (Slow Moving Vehicle) emblems. All traffic laws should be obeyed, and extreme caution used with overwidth equipment.
OTHER FARM MACHINERY
Like tractors, machines can be involved in runover injuries. Extra riders on tractors or machines can fall off and be run over by the machine; extra riders should be prohibited. Unseen bystanders such as small children are a hazard and must be kept from the work area.
Machine hydraulics also pose a hazard. Hydraulic lines can carry pressures as high as 2900 psi, and a pin-hole leak can easily penetrate the skin and cause severe tissue damage; looking for leaks should always be done with paper or cardboard. A failure in the hydraulic system, or an unexpected movement of a control, can allow a machine to unexpectedly drop; no one should ever work under any machine supported by hydraulics unless it is blocked up or a safety stop is in place.
in general should never be allowed around equipment. They
may not appreciate the extreme hazards posed by operating
machines and may reach in or not stay away. Children may play
on parked machines and fall off it or have it fall on them.
Parked equipment should always be lowered to the ground. Extra
tractor wheels leaning up against a wall should be secured
to prevent them tipping over and crushing someone.
Flowing or crusted grain in grain bins can lead to entrapment and suffocation. No one should enter a grain bin during unloading, as the downward flow of grain will pull a person under and entrap them. This is also true in grain wagons; the downward flow during unloading can easily entrap and suffocate a child. Crusted grain should always be broken up from outside the bin; surface crusting may hide a pocket that will unexpectedly collapse and bury a person, and crusted grain hanging up on a all may unexpectedly collapse into an avalanche.
The main hazard of silos is silo gas, made up primarily of nitrogen dioxide, which will severely burn the lungs and may result in fatal fluid buildup. Silo gas is heavier than air and thus can also displace oxygen, leading to asphyxiation. Silos should not be entered for two to three weeks after filling, the peak period for production of silo gas. Silos should always be ventilated before entering, as should silo rooms or any place else where silo gas can collect. Silo unloaders also po e serious entanglement hazards; silos should never be entered while an unloader is in operation.
Some silos are designed to be airtight, and thus are oxygen deficient. These sealed silos should never be entered without an air supply unless they are totally ventilated, as the lack of oxygen will result in death.
Manure pits hold gases given off by decaying manure; the primary components are hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and methane gas. Hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic; carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant; ammonia is an irritant; and methane is explosive. Hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide are heavier than air and stay down in the pit. A manure pit should never be entered without a supplied-air respirator, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus, not even by a rescuer, as the atmosphere will result in death. Agitation of manure greatly increases the gas release and is dangerous to humans and animals. Manure pits should be properly guarded against accidental or unauthorized entry.
SLIPS AND FALLS
As simple as it seems, steps, stairways, and walkways around the farm, including steps and platforms on machinery, must be kept clear and clean to prevent slips and falls.
OVERHEAD POWER LINES AND ELECTRICITY
Electricity in general is a hazard if not used with respect. Wet and corrosive environments around the farm yard mean it is imperative that proper wiring, controls, junction boxes and panels, and extension cords be used for those conditions. Ground fault interrupters should always be used when working in or around water, such as with a high pressure washer. Wiring should be properly maintained and repaired.
CHAIN SAWS AND WOODCUTTING
Tractor or bulldozer operators pushing down trees should always have a Failing Object Protective Structure (FOPS) on their machines, as trees and limbs can fall unexpectedly or in unexpected directions with serious or fatal consequences.
Acute (severe, one-time) and chronic (repeated, long-term) exposures should be prevented. Acute exposures to pesticides can result in severe or fatal poisonings. Accidental ingestion of dairy pipeline cleaner by children results in severe esophageal burns and scarring. A blast of anhydrous ammonia can result in blindness or other injury. Chronic exposures to some pesticides may result in increased risk of certain cancers; chronic exposure in general carries many uncertainties and should be avoided.
Exposure to chemicals can occur though inhalation, ingestion (including eating with contaminated hands), skin contact, and eye contact. The appropriate personal protective equipment, such as goggles, gloves, aprons, suits, etc., is extremely important when handling chemicals. Proper storage and disposal of chemicals protects unauthorized persons like children from exposure, protects animals and feed, and protects the groundwater.
Proper hearing protection must always be used against exposure to these noises, as hearing loss will gradually occur even if it is not noticeable at first. Even teenagers who work on farms have been shown to suffer premature hearing loss.
LIFTING AND REPETITIVE MOTION INJURIES
Repetitive motion, such as constant kneeling when milking cows or repetitive hand motions when hand harvesting, can result in joint deterioration or injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. Again, thought must be given to ways to avoid such motions, either through restructuring the job, using mechanical aids, or redesigning the workplace to eliminate the motions.
MAINTENANCE, REPAIR, AND CONSTRUCTION
Construction operations should be undertaken with safety in mind. Trenches can collapse if not properly stabilized. Work on farm buildings or other structures should involve use of appropriate devices like scaffolding or safety belts to prevent falls.
CHILD SAFETY ON THE FARM
It is imperative that parents give their children age appropriate tasks, suitable to the mental, physical, and emotional development of their children. Children should also receive thorough training in these tasks. It is equally important that children are not brought into hazardous areas, such as being extra riders on tractors, or be allowed to play in busy farm yards or other hazardous areas where they can get into trouble or not be seen by equipment operators. Dangerous areas like manure lagoons must be fenced off to prevent access by children.
Federal OSHA has regulations for agriculture, and these regulations may be enforced on farms which have had 11 or more employees at any one time during the previous year. These regulations involve ROPS, equipment guarding, field sanitation, temporary labor camps, anhydrous ammonia, pulpwood logging, slow-moving vehicles, and hazard communication (providing information on chemical hazards to workers). These regulations carry the force of law and fines can result for lack of compliance. In so e states these regulations apply to farms with a lesser number of workers; contact the state OSHA office for information.
The federal Hazardous Occupations Order for Youth prohibits youths under the age of 16 to be hired or even work without pay (with certain exceptions, such as on farms owned or operated by their parents or legal guardians) to do certain farm jobs. These include operating tractors and various farm machines; there are eleven prohibited job categories in all. However, youths age 14 and 15 may operate tractors and certain machines if they have completed a training course and receive certification These certification courses are offered through some 4-H clubs, vocational agriculture instructors, or Extension agents. Contact them for more information on the program and restrictions.
The Environmental Protection Agency has recently developed the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) to provide additional safety for workers who handle or apply pesticides used in the production of agricultural plants. Requirements include various posting and notification requirements, worker training and protection, decontamination emergency assistance, and label compliance. The WPS applies to all farms regardless of size or number of employees; even farms without employees must comply with label requirements. Contact your Extension office or state department of agriculture for details.
Users of restricted-use pesticides are required to be certified to purchase and use these chemicals. Extension agents offer training and certification examinations.
This document is Safety and Health for Beginning Farmers, a series of the Agricultural Engineering Department, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, 53706. Publication date: February 1994.
Mark A. Purschwitz, assistant professor and extension agricultural safety and health specialist; Cheryl Skjolaas, agricultural safety and health outreach specialist, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, 53706.
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