Long days, fatigue heighten risk of accidents during harvest period

On the long-ago TV police drama series, “Hill Street Blues,” Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) always ended his daily briefing of his officers with a phrase that became part of the lexicon: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

With harvest season moving into full swing across the Mid-South, and Sept. 21-27 designated “National Farm Safety and Health Week,” the “Let’s be careful” message is particularly relevant.

The theme of this year’s observance, being promoted by the ten U.S. Agricultural Centers and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is “Safety Counts: Protecting What Matters.” Extension agents, educators, ag science teachers, producers/owners/operators, first responders, and farm families are participating in the campaign to foster an increased emphasis on safety.

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Although the stats are improving, agriculture remains one of the country’s leading hazardous occupations, and sadly, more than 100 youth under age 20 die each year in farm-related accidents (23 percent involve machinery/tractors).

“This year’s theme underscores the importance of everyone working together to build a safer, healthier agricultural workplace,” says Scott Heiberg, spokesman for the Ag Centers. The focus on safety is especially pertinent during harvest season, he says, when farmers “are putting in long hours, under the stress of weather delays, equipment breakdowns, and high operating costs.”

During harvest season, a peak periods for farm injuries and deaths, dangers include falls from tractors/machinery and trailing equipment, grain storage/handling facilities, and sun/heat exposure, according to the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety.

“Develop a ‘Safety First’ attitude,” NECAS specialists say. “Follow safe work practices all the time —  and set a good example for others.” Fatigue, stress, and worry during long days in the fields can cause lapses in judgment about safety. “Take frequent breaks,” they advise.

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Make sure everyone operating, or working on equipment, is properly trained and physically able to operate it safely. Before use, inspect equipment to be sure all guards/shields/safety locks/hydraulic systems/lights are in place and operating properly and that fire extinguishers are on board.

Falls from farm machinery are common and can result in serious injury/death. Wear shoes/boots with slip-resistant soles/heels and be sure that steps and platforms are clear of tools and debris that could cause falls.

Wear sun-protective hats, keep plenty of water on hand and stay hydrated, and use sunscreen of at least SPF15 (sun overexposure is the leading cause of skin cancer).

When working around grain storage/handling facilities, be sure all safety measures are in place and operational, and wear NIOSH-approved respirators and hearing protection. Never enter a grain bin that’s being loaded or unloaded — you can be trapped and suffocated in a matter of seconds.

Don’t become a statistic: Hey, be careful out there!

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