As I sit at my computer, awkwardly attempting to type this article with one hand, I am inspired to reflect on the dangers of farming. Granted, my arm is broken from training a horse, but livestock injuries are an all too common part of farming and this is definitely not my first farm injury.
Dealing with large animals, long hours, big equipment, bad weather and other intense conditions, farmers don’t just sit on their porches all day sipping lemonade. Our work can actually be quite dangerous.
A decade-long study of farm safety issues shows that injuries and fatalities can almost always be traced to a farmer rushing to get as much done as possible in the shortest time. Farmers often get grumpy and impatient to get things finished, and almost never have enough help to get the job done how it should be. This is a recipe for disaster.
Farming is 9th Most Dangerous Job
Farming ranked last year as the ninth most dangerous job in the country, above police officers and firefighters. Here is a list of the top ten dangerous occupations with their fatality rate per 100,000 workers:
- Loggers: 127.8
- Fishermen: 117.0
- Pilots: 53.4
- Roofers: 40.5
- Structural Iron and Steel Workers: 37
- Garbagemen: 27.1
- Powerline Workers: 23
- Drivers: 22.1
- Farmers: 21.3
- Construction: 17.4
Studies show that 46 percent of all farm fatalities are from tractors and related equipment. Nearly one-half of these involve the tractor overturning. In the United States, only new tractors are required to have rollover bars, whereas other countries such as Norway require all tractors to have them installed, resulting in very few farmer fatalities by tractor rollover.
Another tractor related cause of death and injury involves children. Farm kids themselves are pretty safe because they know what’s what on the farm, but most injuries happen to kids visiting the farm. Since allowing visitors to our farm, we have worked vigilantly to “city proof” as we call it! Unfortunately, the majority of child deaths and injuries result from grandfathers giving grandchildren tractor rides—a particularly dreadful situation.
Injuries and deaths from livestock are second on the list of farm dangers. More people are killed each year by cows than by sharks. Pigs can also be particularly dangerous. Having said this, personality is in part genetic and there are breeds known for friendliness and others for aggression. My American Guinea Hogs have never once been aggressive towards me with the exception of occasionally knocking the slop bucket out of my hands and sending it flying all over me.
Family members as workers
Nearly 78 percent of farmers have fewer than 10 workers and most of us rely on family members, part-timers and volunteers. All of these, but especially family members, are excluded from many labor protections. This means that family members get to do the most difficult and most dangerous jobs and that means we have to be extra aware of their safety.
- Slow down and make sure farm work gets done safely and efficiently.
- Carefully schedule farm chores, allowing sufficient time to complete each project before moving on to the next
- Put things in perspective. Before you try to play catch-up, think if it will really matter five years from now if you caught up or not?
- Install rollover bars in all farm equipment
- Cattle, pigs, goats and even chickens can bite, kick, ram or trample someone without warning. Stay attentive and alert.
- Pick livestock breeds known for their friendliness.
- Wear a mask or respirator. Inhalation of dust from chicken coops or mucking pens can cause respiratory issues such as bronchitis and emphysema.
- Be extra watchful of visiting children and EXTREMELY careful about tractor rides.
- Take breaks, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep. Working long hours in the field can cause dangerous levels of fatigue that can lead to poor decisions, inattentiveness and slow reaction times.
- Be extra careful where you could fall, another common farm injury.
- Take the strings off sweatshirts and wear boots without laces, engines love them and one out of every 10 farmers has an amputation.
- Flip Flops are very unwise, as hypocritical as it is for me to say that! My toes get stomped on regularly, but even I put on boots around the cows and horses…usually.
- Long hair or beards are dangerous around machinery. “If it dangles, it tangles.”
Even if you’re not a farmer, you can still take precautions to help with farm safety. Educate your children about farm safety before visiting a farm and don’t encourage your children into dangerous activities such as getting that adorable picture of your toddler with the calf and its mom when the farmer isn’t looking (true story).
Be extra cautious driving near farm machinery on the roadways. Farm vehicles need to travel slowly and many accidents are caused by frustrated drivers zooming around a slow tractor. If you see someone on an ATV or a horse, take the same precaution of slowing down. Horses are very sensitive to loud, moving objects. Trust me, as I sit here nursing my broken arm, I am living proof of that.
What is your worst farm injury?