Spring into Safety

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farm safetyAlyssa Dick
Program Specialist
Value Added Agriculture Program
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Spring is officially here which means everyone is out and about enjoying the warmer weather. With this also comes increased yard work, field work and other outdoor projects. While we all love being outdoors more, we need to keep in mind some general safety guidelines when working around the farm. Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries and those working on a farm or acreage are at very high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries. Farming is also one of the few industries in which family members are also at risk for on farm injuries. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, about 1,000 farm-related injuries receive medical attention yearly. Review the safety tips from Farm Safety For Just Kids below and work towards keeping yourself and others safe around the farm this year.

ATV Safety

Many farm and acreage owners own and operate ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicles), also known as 4-wheelers or quads. However most ATV operators don’t practice safe riding habits. Having the right protection can make the rider feel more comfortable and reduce the chance of injury. All body parts need protection-especially the head. Make sure to wear an ATV specific helmet, long sleeved shirts and pants, gloves, and boots.

Even though ATV seats are large, they are built for only one rider. The large seat allows the driver room to move when operating the ATV. The additional body weight of a passenger alters the ATV’s center of gravity and is more likely to tip over when another person rides on the machine. If the ATV is built for additional riders, it will say so in the manual.

What many people don’t know, is that ATV’s are intended for off-road use only. They are not designed for operation on highways and may be difficult to control on paved surfaces. The low air pressure in the ATV’s wide tires allow the machine to grab road surfaces which are usually rough, bumpy, and often steep. If the road surface is smooth like pavement or blacktop the tires may cause the ATV to stop too quickly and the operator may not be able to ride safely. Some states allow the use of ATVs on public roads, primarily for the use of getting from one area to another. Check out your state laws at http://www.atvsafety.gov. In Iowa, no passengers are allowed on the ATV unless it is designed to carry more than one person. ATV use on highways is prohibited, except to cross these roads and for agricultural purposes and then only during daylight hours. And, no one under 12 can operate an ATV unless on private land.

Tractor Safety

Farm machinery, including tractors, is the leading source of fatalities on the farm in the United States. Each year, 250-350 people of all ages die in tractor incidents in the United States. Tractors are the single leading source of fatalities among youth working on the farm; tractors account for 43% of vehicle deaths. Families have had a dangerous tradition of allowing children to ride on tractors, but you should never allow a rider on the drawbar, fender, lap, or loader bucket. Riders face the hazard of being run over as they are the first to bounce off the tractor. A rider can also distract the driver or bump controls. Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS) are not designed to protect riders-only the operator. Many people believe that tractor cabs can keep riders safe. This is not true. A cab is designed to protect only the tractor operator; it does not prevent a rider from being thrown from the cab and run over. Doors might not latch and windows can pop open. And if the tractor overturns, the rider can be thrown or crushed against the tractor frame.

Learning about Power Take-Off (PTO) safety is often one of the first lessons on the farm. Power Take-Offs are used on the farm to transfer power from the tractor to another implement such as a grain auger, manure spreader, mower, or feed grinder, and they are found on most tractors. PTOs operate by turning at speeds of 540 or 1,000 rotations per minute. This speed and the device make the PTO very dangerous. An entanglement can occur in the driveline between the tractor and the implement and can cause some of the most serious injuries on the farm. Equipment manufacturers provide shields for PTO drivelines to protect operators and bystanders from becoming entangled in the rapidly spinning shaft. Never step over the PTO even if it is not running. Make a habit of walking around it at all times. Do not wear jewelry or loose clothing and always tie back long hair.

Follow these more general tractor safety tips below:

  • Do not let children play on or in any tractor.
  • Never stand behind a tractor backing up to hitch machinery.
  • Know how to shut off tractors.
  • Never approach a tractor operator without them knowing you are in the area.
  • Discuss how you get the attention of a tractor operator with your family. There are many methods. What’s yours?

Rural Roadway Safety

Tractors share the roadways with other vehicles, especially during planting and harvest seasons. Tractor drivers need to be aware of the other vehicles and take special precautions to prevent collisions. Car and pickup drivers must also be aware of the large, slow moving vehicles when they turn corners, come over hills, and meet the tractors on the road. The tractor’s center of gravity may be altered when pulling implements or driving on sloped surfaces. This may influence how easily the tractor may overturn. Before travelling on public roadways, conduct a pre-ride inspection on the tractor and any implements you may be towing. Make sure you have plenty of fuel, all lights and signals work properly, adjust all mirrors, and have a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem on display.  Be aware of a build-up of traffic behind you when travelling; always look in your mirrors to be aware of your surroundings.

Animal Safety

According to National Safety Council, 17% of all farm injuries involve animals. In comparison to humans, animals see in black and white, have difficulty judging distances, have extremely sensitive hearing, are frightened by load noises and high frequency sounds, and are very protective of their young. Many of these factors cause animals to spook and respond skittish and frightened. Even though an animal may look friendly, all animals need to be treated with respect as they can be unpredictable. Teach children to be alert when around livestock and do so yourself.

Gases produced by animal wastes can be dangerous to children and adults. Those unaware of the dangers can become incapacitated before they even know they are in danger. Toxic gases, especially in confined spaces such as manure pits, silos and grain bins, can pose hazards to humans and animals. Four gases of major concern found in manure pits are: hydrogen sulfide (HS), ammonia (NH), carbon dioxide (CO) and methane (CH). The primary health hazards of these gases are:

  • Toxic or poisonous reactions that can occur in people or animals
  • Oxygen depletion can result in suffocation. During agitation of the pit, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and carbon dioxide gases, which are all heavier than air, will replace the oxygen in the air. This can occur even under good ventilation conditions
  • Explosions can occur when oxygen mixes with the gases. This is primarily a problem with methane.

If possible, avoid entering a manure pit at all times, even if the pit has been emptied. Ventilate manure pit and buildings during agitation of waste, never enter a pit during agitation, and when repairing a waste storage area, wear an oxygen mask and tank.

Chemical Safety

Chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and fertilizer can enter the body by breathing, absorption through skin, eating or drinking, injection such as cuts or needles, and eyes. 97% of chemical spraying exposure happens through contact with the skin. When using pesticides, always check the pesticide label and see what PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is required by law. Each container label has specific requirements for PPE based on the ingredients in the chemical.

Because most people do not wear their PPE, even though they should be, if you are out in the field spraying, at least stop, shut off sprayer, drive ahead into the dry plants, get out, and correct problem. Then back up, turn sprayer back on and continue. Do not try to fix the problem in the recently sprayed plants.

To prevent chemical hazards, lock all chemicals away from young children, heed all warnings listed on chemical labels, store all chemicals in original containers, and if chemical exposure takes place, seek immediate medical attention.

Another important prevention method is safe laundry practices, which is something a lot of us may not think about. Protective clothing during chemical application will be contaminated. When the clothing enters the house, the contamination can expose others in the household by washing machine residue to other clothing, direct contact, or indirect contact by placing garments on furniture, floors, and counters. Some general safe laundry tips are: wash PPE separate from family members, use hot water when washing, and rinse washing machine before washing other clothing.

If you suspect someone has been exposed to a chemical, call for help as soon as possible by either calling 911 or the poison control center. After you call for help, be sure the victim is breathing, get victim away from area and to fresh air, remove contaminated clothing, if chemical is in the eye, rinse eyes for 30 minutes with cool water, cover victim with a blanket, and make sure the chemical label stays with the victim so that medical professionals can see it.

Farm Emergency and First Aid Kit

According to the Farm Emergency and First Aid Kit article prepared by Charles Schwab and Carolyn Sheridan, being prepared for medical emergencies and knowing the basics of first response can help minimize the extent of injuries. Preparation includes having the right materials available. A farm emergency/first aid kit should contain everything needed to handle a medical crisis where you work. Keep in mind the following tips as you put together your farm emergency/first aid kit.

  • Have more than one kit. consider developing several kits specific to the hazards and potential injury. A first aid kit may look different in the barn compared to one on the tractor.
  • Pack items for individual needs. make sure your emergency kit contains personal medical information and supplies for those with special medical conditions. Such as someone allergic to bee venom needs appropriate items included. Name and phone number of family doctors for everyone should be included.
  • Always include emergency numbers. A card should tell you how to contact an ambulance, hospital, or fire department, and have written directions about how to get to the farmstead, field, or work area.
  • Check kit every 3 month. Inspect for expired supplies. Replace items that are dusty and make sure supplies fit the season.
  • Pack a Red Cross manual or first aid chart. This information is invaluable during a crisis when it’s difficult to think clearly. First aid charts and Red Cross manuals list necessary steps to care for victims of various events, such as drowning, shock, fractures, or burns, and how to avoid additional injury.
  • Label all kits. Store in a large nylon travel or sports bag with a visible label.

How to Respond to Farm Emergencies

When put in an emergency situation, remember the three C’s of first aid. The first is check: ask yourself what happened? Are there any dangers? Never rush into any emergency situation, always check for dangers. The second is call: calling for emergency help early can be one of the most important things you can do. The third is care: after checking for danger and ensuring the scene is safe, and after calling for help, you can now start to care for the injured person until EMS arrive.


Farm Safety For Just Kids

Farm Emergency and First Aid Kits – Dr. Charles Schwab, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach safety specialist and Carolyn Sheridan, registered nurse, March 2013

Date of Publication: 
May, 2016