Warm, sunny spring days signal the opening of the farming season. Everywhere around the state, farmers are working in their fields, operating a variety of farm equipment and machinery, getting their land ready for planting and seeding their fields.
The beautiful farms, the quiet countryside and the pastoral scenes of cattle and barnyards look so peaceful and quiet what a safe, tranquil life the farmer must lead. Wrong.Agriculture is the most dangerous industry in the U.S. Mining and construction rank second and third in the number of injuries and fatalities suffered by workers each year.
National safety drives and accident prevention programs between 1960 and 1981 helped to cut the fatal accident rate for mining by more than 55 percent and for construction by nearly 45 percent. But fatal farm accidents were reduced by less than 10 percent.
Many hazards on the farm are unlike those threatening workers in other industries. Farmers are exposed to chemicals, livestock, bad weather conditions, complex machinery, and economic influences.
In most industries, there is a boss and company policies that promote safe work habits. On the farm, the worker and the manager are usually the same person. There is generally no one to insist that the farmer wear safety glasses or shields or observe safe work habits.
Beset by a variety of economic forces, farmers often disregard personal safety in the drive to get work done on time, plant before it rains, harvest their hay while the weather is dry.
Farmers work long hours, often from before the sun rises until into the night, especially during certain times of the year when crops must be planted or harvested. Farmers who realize that a single day could mean the difference between profit and loss are fighting the clock and not usually worrying about observing safety practices. Fatigue can play a role.
In most industries, workers seldom operate more than a few machines and usually need to know only the hazards associated with a few devices.
A farmer, on the other hand, may operate, maintain and repair dozens of complicated and sophisticated machines. He may be working with a field cutter one day and operating a combine or other machine with different handling characteristics the next day.
When I was a boy growing up in Moline, Ill., I saw many men with steel hooks for hands and other artificial devices growing from their sleeves and thought that they were World War II veterans, but my father finally explained that most of these men had lost their limbs in corn pickers or in other farm accidents.
Unlike other industries, farms are widely dispersed. A farmer can be injured in an isolated or hidden area on his farm and it may be hours before he is found and medical treatment started. The delay in treatment often makes an injury worse.
Some farm noises from machines such as tractors, harvesters, grinders, choppers, conveyors, chain saws and power mowers are louder than noises associated with urban living. A farm can be as noisy as any factory and permanent hearing loss is a common occupational hazard.
Until recently, too little emphasis has been placed on agricultural safety. Too few educational programs have been designed to deal with the dangers inherent in farming and ranching.
New programs need to be designed and implemented that address the dangers of farming and that reach the farmer and his family in ways that actually change dangerous practices and behavior.
Farmers are, traditionally, independent and self-sufficient and safety programs that recognize these traits need to be developed.
Safety programs need to recognize that farmers and ranchers generally live and work in isolated or rural areas. Safety programs that would benefit farmers and their families must be carried to the farms or made so attractive and interesting that farmers and their families are motivated to come to the city or some rural center to attend.
Farmers themselves must begin to realize the dangers inherent in their profession and realize that, if they become injured, there will usually be no replacement available. Neighbors may come to the farm to help, but they are usually not qualified to make the management decisions that often determine the profit or loss of the farm.
The American farmer is a vital bulwark in the safety, security and welfare of the nation. Our society and government should do all it can to protect him and he, too, should do all he can to protect himself and his fellow farm workers.