Statistically, farming has long been among the top 10 most hazardous occupations in the country in terms of workplace-related illness, injuries and even fatalities. In fact, research I did for a recent presentation on this topic for farmers attending a client event, shows farming to be even more dangerous than government statistics suggest.
That’s because while farming itself ranks 8th among the nation’s top ten most hazardous professions in terms of fatalities per 100,000 employed in that profession, it ranks 2nd in fatalities per 100,000 across all groups combined. Showing examples and interacting with attendees, we learn why: The wide range of tasks farmers and ranchers often perform are associated with common tasks among seven of those other professions ranked in the top ten most hazardous in the country!
Another common myth I dispel is the “Oh well, accidents happen” notion that most farm accidents are bound to happen at some point and unavoidable over time. Wrong. Often the culprit is poor judgement, not just “bad luck.” There is data on the top ten most preventable farm accidents and safety practices that address each one.
Age plays a significant role in farm accident and work-related illness stats. The mix of most common injury types for farmers 55 and over are different than those for teenagers, and for different reasons. Further, the majority of injuries to youth under 16 on farms today are unrelated to actual farm work, but just the host of ways kids on farms can be hurt in recreational activities, hobbies and “horseplay” that are either unavailable or “never occur” to city kids.
What attendees find most enlightening is a “self-audit” procedure for their existing safety awareness and practices. It is a series of questionnaires for self-evaluation of 1) their current safety training policy, 2) the current safety-minded “culture” among family and staff, 3) the most common causes of accidents and injuries on their farm or ranch, and 4) the effectiveness of current remedies for safety violations.
The real eye-opener comes for farmer and rancher attendees with the courage to do this self-audit privately, and then hand out copies to family members and staff in order to compare answers. Anonymity will eliminate the hesitancy to be honest and candid, which can lead to surprising “disconnect” between an owner’s evaluation of current safety policy and what his or her own family and staff have observed.
Farmers face a host of risks in weather, costs of production and market prices. Smart ones spend a lot of time and effort managing those risks wisely. The really wise ones will understand that illness, injury or even death on the farm is beyond mere “luck of the draw,” but another kind of risk to be mitigated and wisely managed. That means sound training put into practice, a true safety “culture” and quick corrective action for policy violations and “close calls” as well as actual incidents. The beginning of wisdom is knowing what you don’t know. A farm safety “self-audit” is the place to begin.