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Farm safety — think spring

By Gary Wright - Columnist | May 11, 2021

Regularly, farm safety is emphasized each fall around harvest, including the scheduled Sept 19-25, 2021 National Health and Safety Week (which is traced to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944). Many of the risk factors relate equally to the apring planting season. So much so, that I want to raise the ever important moniker: “think safety” now! Based upon the U.S. Bureau and Labor Statistics 2019 data showed the ag sector remaining the most dangerous with 573 fatalities or 23.1 deaths per 100,000 workers.

The following risk assessments to consider are not exhaustive, but maybe a starting point:

– Raised awareness – really starts here!; so much of safe work begins with a mindset to think safety before or alongside of every other spring season farm activity; this means promotions through materials, public relations, youth education, emergency/safety courses, safe driving emphasis, rural medical service offerings (looking at preemptive, pre-season evaluations), etc.

– Fertility – though soil conditions and air temperatures will effect when anhydrous ammonia specifically comes into play, think more broadly, regardless of spring or fall season fertilization about safe work, including personal protective equipment (PPE); pre- and periodic inspections of M&E valves, hoses, knives, etc. with as-needed adjustments or repairs; contingency planning relative to the availability of fresh water; etc.

– Chemicals – a close-cousin of fertility is the crop’s weed management steps; spring completion in a safe manner may additionally include: availability of material safety data sheets (MSDS); keenly accurate labeling; proper protection in the storage of farm chemicals; post-season clean-up, including clothes laundry; etc.

– Runovers, falls and turnovers – largely considered unintentional, yet can lead to serious injuries, or death; better spring safety choices would include: wearing proper foot protection, designed for the environment; pre-cleaning stairs, floors, M&E platforms/foot-plates of slippery mud, snow or manure; strict adherence to no-rides on drawbars or towed M&E; reduce speeds, especially when rough, uneven, hilly or poor-visibility.

– Maintenance shops – breakdowns by themselves tend to inadvertently cause an operator to ratchet-up the pace, whether in-the-field delays or from visits to the shop; service/maintenance area safety can be improved by: best-lighting; pre-organization and clean-up; adhering to M&E safety rules on guards and shields, disengaging, stopping/moving the equipment; inspection the shop’s first aid kits (replenished of supplies, when needed).

– Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – as alluded to earlier, the number and severity of an accident or injury can be improved by PPE, starting with: head, hand and leg protection; steps to mitigate adversities to the five senses, most notably sight and hearing; adequate clothing to cover against spills or excessive sunshine.

– Tractor safety – research shows that the primary source of power in / around the spring work is a root cause of farm fatalities and severe injuries; the mindful owner may consider: pre-season inspection and repair/replacement of areas identified; have all the respective operators been given adequate training; as a lengthy planting season progresses, are safeguards in-place to monitor and manage against the risks of fatigue, stress, medication/alcohol/drug use.

Good farm management starts with a commitment and a plan to get thru the planting season with a goal of no injuries or accidents. As you need help in the planning, please contact me (gdwright@iastate.edu; 712-223-1574). We’ll together analyze your individual operation safety risks, using the great tools that are part of the Ag Decision Maker (https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/; or https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Topic/Farm-Management/Farm-Safety?S=0&A=0&F=0 ). Be safe!

Gary D. Wright is a farm management specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach serving 13 counties in northwest Iowa.

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