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Think safety first on the farm this spring

fotokostic/Getty Images Farmer in field with combine in background
STAY IN TOUCH: UW-Madison farm safety specialist Cheryl Skjolaas says communication between a farmer, family members and employees is key during the busy spring planting season, especially if someone is working alone.
Farmers need to model safe behaviors and check on employees.

Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin-Madison agricultural safety and health senior outreach specialist, wants farmers and their family members and employees to think safety this spring as you head out to do fieldwork and plant.

Skjolaas and Marsha Salzwedel, project scientist at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation and National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, Wis., spoke about farm safety on April 13 during a Professional Dairy Producers webcast.

Positive influencer

 “Safety begins with you. Be a positive influencer,” Skjolaas said. Your attitude is a big factor especially in getting young people and new employees to pay attention and be careful.

Skjolaas said that in 2017-18, there were 75 fatalities in Wisconsin from farm accidents. Half of the victims were over the age of 64. About 27% were 45 to 64, and less than 23% were under 45.

What are the most common accidents? According to Skjolaas, tractor rollovers still claim a majority of lives in Wisconsin farm accidents.

How can these accidents be prevented?

Skjolaas suggested making sure all tractors in routine use for work on farms are equipped with a rollover protective structure and a seatbelt.

“Older, pre-ROPS tractors on farms are not uncommon — but wherever possible, their use should be limited and curtailed or reserved for parades, tractor shows, or other special events,” she said. “As greater distances traveled between farmstead and field, roadway crashes have become a significant issue. Any time you operate on the highway, your equipment should be brightly lit, visible from both the front and rear, and flashers should always be used. For equipment where running electrical wiring is expensive or difficult, check with your local equipment dealer for low-cost LED flashers and lights that can be battery powered, magnetically mounted and easily moved between equipment pieces to improve safety.”

Skjolaas said communication between a farmer, family members and employees is key, especially if someone is working alone.

“Leave a note if Dad is going up in the silo,” Skjolaas said. The note should say where they are and when they are expected to return.

“Even if they have a cellphone, if something happens to them, they likely will not be able to call you,” she said.

Skjolaas noted, as we warn of the dangers and health concerns facing farmers, workers and family members, “it’s also important to note that progress has been made. Farms have gotten safer in the past few decades.”

According to Skjolaas, the current rate of workplace fatalities in farming, documented by the National Safety Council, is 22.8 per 100,000 workers, down from 42 per 100,000 workers in 1990.

“So, we have seen a 46% reduction in the per capita death rate during that 30-year time period,” she said. “But this did not happen without huge effort and specific, positive, measurable action and attention.”

Model safe behavior

Salzwedel said it is important for farmers to model safe behaviors and check on employees.

“Touch base with your employees every morning to see how they are,” Salzwedel said. “Ask if they got enough sleep last night? Are they hung over? Are they feeling well? Did they have an argument with their spouse this morning? Are they upset? Is there anything that will cause them to be unsafe today?”

She said in the next two months, the hours farmers will be working on the farm will be increasing. “Everyone will be tired,” she said. “Fatigue is a huge contributor to accidents. Be aware of this and stay safe.”

Take safety on the farm seriously, especially during the busy spring planting season. Where your seatbelt when driving a tractor. Communicate. Get plenty of sleep. Don’t forget to take breaks. Eat and stay hydrated. The life you save may be your own!

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