Stayin’ alive: Agriculture safety tips from the experts

Many farmers consider their work rewarding, but agriculture ranks among the most dangerous professions in the U.S., according to the USDA.

Safety experts share a few tips on how farmers can stay safe in 2019:

Deadliest roads

“Country roads, take me home.” But drivers, be careful. The roads least traveled are the nation’s deadliest, according to federal highway data.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent report reveals drivers on rural roads die at a rate 2.1 times higher per mile traveled than in urban areas.

According to NHTSA, rural highways, which receive less federal money, are more likely to have outdated designs and potholes. Wild animals dart into traffic more often. Rural drivers tend to drive faster. And in a crash, they’re more likely to die before getting medical help since hospitals are farther away.

According to National Occupant Protection Use Surveys, people in rural areas also drive at higher rates without seat belts. Sixty percent of those who die in pickup trucks aren’t using a seat belt, according to NHTSA.

Safety officials encourage rural drivers to wear seat belts, watch out for wildlife, be careful on old highways and recognize that the “it won’t be me” mentality won’t work when it is you.

Crushing truth

According to researchers at Purdue University, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported in the U.S. in the past 50 years — with a 62% fatality rate.

Entrapment happens when a person gets sucked into grain and can’t get out without help. This typically happens in silos or grain elevators but can also happen in freestanding piles.

Jose Perez, corporate senior manager for health and safety at the Wonderful Co. and member of the American Society of Safety Professionals, said communication is crucial.

“Tell someone when you’re going into the grain area,” he said.

Perez said you should also have a lifeline. “Always have a harness and lanyard when you go into a silo,” said Perez. “If you get engulfed like quick sand, having a line attached will save your life. This isn’t new. It’s just not utilized anywhere near enough.”

Overheated workers

One of the most serious dangers for nursery workers is heat illness, said Perez.

“Pay attention to the temperature inside greenhouses and how that impacts people,” said Perez. “Create a good heat illness prevention program. Hydrate, hydrate.”

Safety culture

Perez said agricultural safety is about mindset.

He said it’s important to consider the culture and background of agricultural workers. He immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, where he said he did not feel comfortable talking with managers. If an agricultural laborer comes from a hierarchical background, Perez explained, they may believe they should not bother the “boss” and should use whatever tool they’ve got.

“But ‘get-the-job-done’ culture can work against you if you’ve learned to think you shouldn’t ask for help,” said Perez. “Farm managers need to recognize workers’ backgrounds and tell them, ‘It’s OK to ask for help. Please tell me when something is hard or dangerous.’ And workers need to talk with each other, too.”

Keep learning

The North American Agricultural Safety Summit, hosted by the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America, will take place March 19-20 at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Nevada.