When spring arrives, whether it is early, late or on time, the race is on. Always competing with Mother Nature and the weather, there are only so many days to prepare soil and plant crops for the upcoming growing season.
In the excitement of the new season, it is easy to forget about the basic safety tips that are critical in keeping all employees safe.
Equipment manufacturers have made strides in lighted markers and reflective strips that now come standard on equipment, but over time markers can fade and indicator lights stop working.
Photos by Katie Navarra.
"A farmer doesn't wake up in the morning and think, 'Today is a good day to have an incident,'" said Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (www.necasag.org). "A farmer wakes up thinking, 'I have 50 things to do today and can only do 25.'"
When a piece of equipment breaks down and the farmer rushes to make up time and takes shortcuts to accomplish all the necessary tasks for the day, "that's when incidents happen," Neenan explained.
When the farm owner and key employees have a "safety first" approach, which includes following safety procedures, it limits safety-related incidents and sets a good example for other farm employees.
Routine maintenance to avoid accidents
All machinery should receive regularly scheduled maintenance, and any repairs should be made immediately. Broken or worn parts should be replaced right away and according to manufacturer specifications.
- Check tire inflation to avoid flats and blowouts.
- Inspect hydraulic lines for wear and cracks, and replace those that need it.
- Replace any guards removed during repair work.
- Examine brakes, hitches, safety chains, springs and shackles for wear, broken or missing parts, and cracks in the welds.
- Block wheels when working on any piece of equipment and use jacks to stabilize equipment.
- Place a reflective slow-moving vehicle (SMV) sign on the back of equipment that is driven down the road.
Tractor safety is number one. "Forty percent of all farm fatalities and injuries are from rollovers, run-overs or PTO entanglements," Neenan noted.
Farmers often climb in and out of a combine or tractor multiple times a day, so strapping on the seat belt is often the last thing on their mind. "For rollover protection structures to work, the operator has to be in the seat, and that means using the seat belt," Neenan said.
Tractor safety is number one. "Forty percent of all farm fatalities and injuries are from rollovers, run-overs or PTO entanglements," noted Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety.
Wearing a seat belt also ensures that the operator remains in the seat in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle. Rural roadway safety is the number two safety hazard, following rollovers, run-overs and PTO entanglements, Neenan pointed out.
Rural roadway collisions
Accidents between farm equipment and motor vehicle operators are split 50-50 when it comes to who's at fault. "Fifty percent of the time, the farm equipment operator is charged, and 50 percent of the time, the motoring public is charged," said Neenan.
In a majority of cases, a collision occurred when farm equipment made a left-hand turn into a farm lane or farmstead. "Double-check traffic coming at you, as well as the traffic behind you," Neenan stressed.
Equipment manufacturers have made strides in lighted markers and reflective strips that now come standard on equipment, but over time markers can fade and indicator lights stop working. Regular inspections and maintenance ensure that safety features designed to protect farm equipment operators are fully operational.
"We have seen an increase in the collision of farm equipment because farmers are buying or renting more farms that are not contiguous with their own farm," he explained.
Accessible safety kits
Since farms are often many miles from medical assistance, farmers need to have an easily accessible, well-stocked safety kit available. Storing a safety kit in a tractor cab, on equipment, in pickup trucks and in easy-to-find locations within farm buildings is necessary.
Examine brakes, hitches, safety chains, springs and shackles for wear, broken or missing parts, and cracks in the welds.
Safety kits should include basic medical supplies, such as adhesive strip bandages, antibiotic ointment, eye patch, eye wash containers, elastic bandages, finger splint, gauze wrap, ice pack, isothermal blanket, latex gloves, shears and tweezers.
Equipment operators should pay particular attention to taking prescribed daily medications according to the prescription's directions.
"As farmers get into a hurry, they don't take their medication at the same time every day, or they don't have food with them to take the medication," Neenan said. Not following the instructions associated with prescription drugs can cause drowsiness and slowed reaction times.
It is equally important that equipment operators get adequate sleep so they are able to stay alert while working with equipment. Regular breaks for eating, drinking, stretching your legs and clearing your mind help with alertness.
Safety tips for all farms
- Pay attention to all safety information. Read the operator's manual and warning decals, and ensure that any person operating equipment has the appropriate training and is physically able to operate it safely.
- Take frequent breaks to avoid mental and physical fatigue.
- Inspect equipment prior to use; correcting hazards aids in the prevention of many situations that could lead to injury.
The importance of farm safety was first recognized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, when he signed the first National Farm Safety Week proclamation, bringing attention to the hazards and risks of farm work. Every president since then has recognized National Farm Safety and Health Week by presidential proclamation.
Safety kits should include basic medical supplies, such as adhesive strip bandages, antibiotic ointment, eye patch, eye wash containers, elastic bandages, shears, etc.
The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, based in Iowa, provides farm safety training on-site and nationwide through partnerships with colleges and farm safety education centers.
Extension agencies affiliated with agricultural colleges like Cornell University and Purdue offer ongoing safety training at low or no cost. These safety certification courses can range from a day to several weeks. Equipment dealers and Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters also host training workshops.
The time invested in safety training is unquantifiable. It can save a life or prevent a life-altering injury. Other benefits may also be available, including lower workers' compensation insurance rates and a reduction in lost productivity due to injuries.
Katie Navarra is a freelance contributor based in Clifton Park, N.Y., and writes about agriculture and the equine industry regularly.