Agriculture forms the backbone of most economies and is a chief driver of economic growth. In 2013 the agricultural sector grew by a spectacular 16.4% and aided considerably in improving the country’s GDP. The earnings and income are high, and the government identifies it as one of the mainstays of US economy, but the ground reality presents quite a sordid picture.
Working on land is one of the oldest professions in human history and sadly the passage of time and advent of new technology has done little to make the lives of the laborers safer. Agriculture demands long hours of work and involves consistent and close contact with heavy machinery and equipment. A majority of the injuries and work-related fatalities involve transportation incidents and mechanical mishaps. Youth fatalities are also alarmingly high in this sector. Agriculture and related industries had 475 work-related deaths in 2012, down from a high of 566 in 2011. Agriculture also recorded the highest fatal injury rate among industry sectors at 21.2 fatalities per 100,000 FTE workers in 2012, as compared to the overall industry average of 3.2 per 100,000 workers.
Some Common Safety Hazards in Agriculture Industry
Let us have a look at the common safety hazards present in agriculture and farming sector.
In the year 2011 more than half the fatalities in this sector were caused by vehicular accidents. The scenario hasn’t changed much three years down the lane. Injuries suffered in agriculture-related transportation are debilitating and serious, and mostly result in a loss of life. Tractor rollovers or overturns present the single biggest threat with about half of the in-use tractors in the US not being equipped with rollover protective structures.
Injuries sustained lead to loss of several months of labor. All tractors and harvesters should have necessary safety features installed and should only be operated by properly trained workers.
Extremely Hot Weather
Most of the agricultural jobs involve long hours under the sun. When the mercury rises it becomes extremely draining and tiring to do labor-intensive work or use heavy machinery and equipment. Heavy and protective clothing also adds to the discomfort. Dehydration and sun strokes can prove fatal. Heat-related illnesses easily affect new workers unused to extreme conditions. It is essential that workers are well-hydrated and drink plenty of water/fluids, rest adequately and wear loose and light-colored clothing.
Equipment and Heavy Machinery
Working on the farm involves hauling around heavy machinery like hoes, combines, sprayers, disc harrows and balers. Knives, saws and digging equipment are also a part of routine operations. It is important all machinery and tools are well-maintained and serviced, and used according to manufacturers’ instructions. Laborers should use proper protection gear and follow guidelines. Loose, flowing clothes and long hair pose a danger of entanglement and should be avoided. Power tools should be double-insulated and used according to the accepted safety standards.
Repetitive work in awkward and unnatural positions causes stress and strain to the body. Musculoskeletal injuries and ergonomic risks are high in continuous work involving physical exertion, pushing, pulling, lifting heavy objects and prolonged vibration of the body due to operation of machines. Proper and suitable machinery, well-trained laborers, padding to reduce vibratory stress, reduction of highly repetitive jobs and timely medical supervision can help being down the occurrence of bodily injuries and ergonomic problems considerably.
Grain bins and silos pose a very big threat and have caused many fatalities with at least 26 deaths and 57 cases of engulfment recorded in 2010. It is mandatory to impart proper training to all personnel dealing with grain bins and silos. Power equipment, loaders and augers should be switched off when entering a silo. Safety harnesses or supporting chairs should be provided to the workers. No one should enter a silo when there is grain bridged overhead or sticking to the sides. The air in silos should be tested for toxic gases. Since 2007, 80 lives have been lost to silo accidents; 14 of those who died were teenagers. With proper health and safety measures these horrific deaths could have been prevented.
Pesticides and a multitude of other chemicals are used in farms to keep away pests and disease carriers, control and eliminate weeds, and insect infestations. Pesticide handlers are at increased risk from several short and long-term diseases and health problems due to their exposure to these chemicals. There is also the possibility of infections spreading to the families of workers due to close contact. Rural communities next to these fields face contamination of groundwater sources and air. The EPA regulates pesticide use through Worker Protection Standards (WPS). This includes safety training, use of protective equipment and permitted pesticides, restricted entry of personnel to the pesticide-applied regions, decontamination procedures and access to medical help.
Health and safety should be of the highest importance in all industries. Agriculture is the source of livelihood for millions and helps feed populations across the globe. Government should be involved in improving the health and safety of workers and encouraging good practices. With proper and timely regulatory measures coupled with federal help, lives of agricultural workers can be improved vastly.
Penny Olmos is associated with Holloway Houston, Inc. a leading industrial lifting equipment manufacturing company. Her writing is backed by knowledge gained by her many years of experience partnering with clients to build their business through development and implementation of track-proven Internet marketing strategies.