June is National Safety Month and also a time when farmers are hard at work in their fields. With this in mind, we brought in an expert to talk farm safety. Amy Rademaker is the program coordinator for Rural Health and Farm Safety at Carle Health in Urbana, IL.
Read on for what all farm families and agricultural workers – and indeed all of us who live in farming communities – should know to stay safe and healthy this summer and fall.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you’re so passionate about spreading awareness of farm safety.
Amy Rademaker (AR): I grew up on a family farm in Moweaqua, IL, where we still have corn, soybeans and a herd of black Angus cattle. I do all the grain merchandising and cattle sales now that both of my parents have passed away. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love for agriculture. I hated going to school as a small child because I wanted to be on the farm working with my dad. I remember – and still have pictures of – sweeping corn near our corn dump when I was just 5 or 6.
Many of the things I teach now are things I did as a kid. I’m sure I didn’t realize how dangerous they were. I’ve read and heard of so many horrible injuries and fatalities with people of all ages, and they’re preventable. I have a passion for those who work and care for our land and livestock, and I personally want to help keep them safe. My husband, two children and I live on five acres where he grew up as a farm kid too. They help me with lots of things as I prepare programs. It’s a family affair for us.
Why is farm safety awareness so important?
AR: Agriculture, forestry and fishing are the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. year after year. There are many reasons for this. Farms with fewer than 10 employees aren’t required to undergo Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety inspections. The equipment is large and dangerous. People often live, work and play in the same environment. And it’s not an 8 to 5 job – farmers work long days in all kinds of weather and often in isolated environments, where there aren’t people to call for help quickly. Like in any occupation, complacency can easily happen, and that can be very fatal on the farm.
Who needs to know about farm safety?
AR: Everyone and constantly. Adults working in agriculture can become complacent of their own safety, and they also need to consider the little ones who might be following them. I focus much of my time with kids. Younger kids are more impressionable, and they can help share safety messages with adults. As more children become further and further removed from the farm, they can be at higher risk because they aren’t around the hazards every day. They might visit grandma and grandpa on the farm and don’t know the dangers. We also have many teens who go work for a summer on farms but aren’t aware of the dangers. Finally, we can’t forget that the general public also needs to know about dangers on the roadways and such.
If you could pick a handful of “top farm safety messages” everyone should know, what would they be?
AR: It’s so hard to narrow it down – because so many are important – but here are six:
- Accidents can happen to anyone at any time. Don’t become complacent.
- Engineers have added safety features to equipment and facilities for a reason. Use these safety features, and repair or replace them as soon as they’re broken or not working – just like a smoke alarm in your home, you’d replace the batteries or buy a new one if it stopped working. Do the same with these.
- Everyone on the farm needs to be trained properly and offered PPE (personal protective equipment) and a safe environment. No exceptions. And you need to hold everyone responsible to the same high safety expectations. Model these expectations to all who work and live on your farm.
- Have an emergency plan and make sure you communicate it to everyone.
- Health is just as important as safety. Get regular checkups and use PPE at all times.
- The farm can be a fun place to play and grow up, but make sure children have appropriate play areas, supervision and clear expectations at all times.
Why is farm safety awareness even more important now, in the midst of the pandemic?
AR: There are a number of things that affected safety during the pandemic, especially with kids. With schools closing, a lot of parents and guardians had to figure out how to watch their kids while still working themselves. For farm families, this meant young children at home during days when their parents, grandparents and guardians might usually be out working in the fields, barns, etc. Bringing kids along isn’t always the safe choice. Riding in the tractor isn’t safe, even with a cab. And certain chores aren’t age-appropriate for younger kids and could put them at risk. Some families saw it as a great opportunity for their kids to learn life lessons and improve their work ethic – but again, many jobs aren’t appropriate for all ages.
Also, because many camps and summer activities were canceled, parents and guardians bought more ATVs and bikes for their kids. Always pause and consider whether what you purchase is age/size-appropriate, and what types of training and protective gear your kids will need. Finally, more home pools and ponds were used for swimming this past year, in place of community pools with lifeguards.
I guess my main piece of advice during the pandemic, and indeed always, is just think through what safety measures are needed. And then use and follow them, and make sure your kids do too. And even if kids don’t always like it, constant supervision is key for many activities that are unsafe without adults present.
That’s great advice all around. Finally, are there any safety resources and websites you’d like to point people to?
AR: Absolutely! Here are some of my top ones:
- Rural Health and Farm Safety website, Carle Health.
- Cultivate Safety website, part of the National Farm Medicine Center.
- AgriSafe Network is focused on farmers and medical providers. Find great information on health, safety and what PPE you need for different ag work.
- Grain Handling Safety Coalition website.
- Progressive Agriculture Safety Day. Wonderful, important events. Find one near you. Carle does four or five every year.