National Farm and Ranch Safety and Health Week: Be Aware of the Dangers
By Mike Deering, NCBA Director of Communications
President Obama signed a proclamation last week declaring Sept. 16-22 National Farm Safety and Health Week. This week is a perfect time to focus on farm and ranch safety before it is too late. Let this week be your wakeup call. Nearly everyone directly or indirectly involved in the farming and ranching business knows someone who has been injured, paralyzed or killed in a farm-or-ranch related accident. In fact, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, farming and ranching is the fourth most dangerous occupation with 38.5 deaths per 100,000.
The main ingredient necessary to prevent farm and ranch injuries and deaths is a relatively simple concept – awareness. Farmers and ranchers are undoubtedly good at what they do, making it through treacherous weather and mercurial markets. However, along with being skilled, comes a routine – doing the same thing day after day, year after year – eventually having the ability to do the job blindfolded. Unfortunately, years of practice depletes the awareness. Getting caught in the routine is synonymous to getting caught off guard, which opens the door for deadly errors.
All it takes is making safety on the farm and ranch a core value. The concept is simple; look around and evaluate the potential hazards. If you have some blatant malfunction on your operation that you refuse to fix to save a buck or two – fix it, and a “make-do” repair won’t do. As naive as it may sound, baling wire and duct tape won’t fix everything. The possibility of farming and ranching ever being 100 percent safe is out of the question, but being aware of the dangers will allow you to avoid some costly consequences.
Another important component of farm safety involves youth. The recipe for preventing youth injuries and fatalities prescribed by the Department of Labor (DOL) earlier this year was a foolish move. They were essentially proposing to ban youth ages 16 and under from working on farms and ranches. Not only is that almost laughable, on a more serious note, it is just plain dangerous.
We must introduce the next generation of farmers and ranchers to agriculture at a young age with the appropriate supervision. This will allow them to gain more knowledge of the workings of the farm or ranch and increase awareness of potential hazards. Commonsense tells you that a regulation mandating youth to sit on the couch and play video games would do nothing to enhance safety. Rather, it would increase the likelihood of kids getting hurt on the farm or ranch. Could you imagine a young person going to work on his grandparent’s farm for the first time when he or she is 16 – nearing adulthood? Fortunately, this recipe for disaster was pulled by DOL because of the outcry from farm and ranch community.
In addition to the tragic fact that each year farmers and ranchers are being killed and seriously injured, insurance rates are skyrocketing. Insurance premiums are based on history, so each injury significantly contributes to a higher insurance bill across the next three years. Save yourself some unnecessary costs by making your operation safer. You will find that you can add to your bottom line and reduce worker’s compensation premiums by 10 percent to 15 percent. Saving some money and saving your life sounds like a win-win scenario.
I know a man who was a great rancher that was caught off guard. Driving a tractor to hay the herd in the early spring was a daily routine that ended in death. The mistake made was the result of bad weather and poor decision-making, driving over a muddy dam without fully evaluating the hazards. The man left behind a wife and two kids – the man is my dad.
After you’ve seen your mentor and best friend, your dad, pinned lifeless under a tractor at a young age, believe me; your perspective, passion and awareness changes dramatically. Don’t wait for something bad to happen before you change your ways.