The last full week of September was Agricultural Safety Week. Rather than compete with various stories in the media then, we will tackle this issue today but from a slightly different angle. Most stories and information focus on serious injury and death from farming/agricultural industry accidents. This is indeed a problem with eight farm related deaths in Kansas through August of this year. Stories also focus on the number of minors injured and killed on the farm or ranch. Think about how many other workplaces are also homes. While the agricultural industry is still near the top of the list concerning injuries and deaths, the good news is the tremendous strides made in safety over the last several decades through improved safer equipment, a better understanding of the potential dangers in agriculture, and improved procedures and safety regulations.
Today, instead of focusing on these more extreme immediate concerns, let’s focus on items that have potentially negative long-term consequences for the health, safety and quality of life for those in agriculture.
• Heat – Even though cabs with air-conditioning are common, overexertion in summer heat is a potentially major health problem, especially in confined spaces without ventilation. Minor stress includes cramps that can progress to fainting or dizziness then exhaustion and finally heat stroke which can be fatal. Prevention includes regularly drinking small amounts of water, wearing light loose-fitting clothing including a hat and sunscreen. Covering skin is also important in preventing overheating as is trying to avoid the hottest part of the day and paying attention to your body’s warning signals. Once you have experienced heat stroke you are generally more susceptible to heat stress in general.
• Hearing loss – while we may not think of this as a danger it directly affects quality life and indirectly presents a safety hazard. Two factors are important here: frequency and intensity. Frequency is the number of vibrations per second in hertz (the greater number the higher the pitch) while intensity is the power or size of the sound pressure. Both are important in determining the potential damage to hearing along with length of exposure and how near you are to the noise source. While enclosed cabs and quieter machinery have helped, farmers are still at risk. Obviously ear protection is important to minimize exposure. Ear muffs or plugs properly selected and used reduce exposure while still allowing the wearer to hear. Keeping machine in proper condition, limiting noise exposure, and avoiding unnecessary noise help. Remember exposure to certain noises can even produce illness.
• Vision – Hearing and vision are both important but as important as hearing is, vision is probably more so. There are numerous hazards in agriculture from types of dusts and metal shards to numerous chemicals. Depending on the situation you need shatterproof safety glasses, they can be made with your prescription, with side protection and/or a full face shield. If welding, a shield with proper lens filters. And don’t forget protection from ultraviolet light. Unless wearing appropriate goggles, there are many situations where contact lenses should not be worn (dusts and vapors). There are also procedures to minimize the chance for particles, chips, and chemicals reaching the face when working.
• Other obvious items are wearing seatbelts, observing ATV regulations, proper rollover protection, keeping all shields in place and maintaining/repairing equipment.
Most of the above may seem minor compare to serious injury or death but can lead to serious injury and greatly impact quality of life.