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National Farm Safety and Health Week focuses on "Protecting What Matters"

10 Sep 2023

imageNational Farm Safety and Health Week will be observed September 21-27, 2014. Safety Counts - Protecting What Matters is this year’s theme, and the week focuses on promoting awareness of safe farm practices to everyone involved in agriculture and to the general public. 

“What matters most is the lives, the health, and the well-being of our families and co-workers,” said Robert Aherin, Extension agricultural safety specialist and professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois. “It’s very important to consider safe farm practices all year long, but especially during the harvest season, when we experience the highest injury and fatality rates of the year. There are a number of areas where we can significantly reduce our risk using safe farm practices.”

Aherin said Illinois averages about 32 deaths related to farm work each year and of those, 40-45 percent are tractor-related. “A significant portion of those fatalities are rollovers from tractors without rollover protective structures (ROPS),” he said. “It’s critical to use a tractor with a protective structure on it for activities that have a high risk of tractor overturns, such as mowing ditches and roadsides. If you don’t have the structure, your chance of surviving an accident is about 20 percent. With a ROPS, the survival rate increases to about 95 percent.”

Moving farm equipment on public roads during planting and harvest season is another major safety issue in Illinois. “Make sure your equipment is well lit and visible. Farm equipment moves about one-third the speed of other traffic, so it’s important that the driving public can identify slow-moving vehicles,” he said. “All equipment operated on public roads should have the slow-moving emblem visible on the rear, and you should use flashing warning lights, day or night.  If you have equipment that’s wider than one lane of traffic, make sure you have a flashing warning light visible to the front and rear on the far left of the equipment.” Aherin encourages farmers to use an escort vehicle if they are traveling on roads that are curvy or hilly. “Other vehicles need about 1000 feet in order to see a farm vehicle and take evasive action if necessary. Some of our roadways don’t have that much space, so an escort vehicle with flashing lights can warn oncoming traff! ic.”

Harvest time can be an exciting time of year, especially for children on the farm, but Aherin encourages parents to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to the youngest members of the farm family. “I know there are many positive things about spending time with your children, but harvest is not that time. You have to understand the risk that’s involved. You’re using massive equipment, and if they’re around it’s possible you won’t see them. If they’re riding in the cab of a tractor, an unexpected bump or jolt can throw them against the door and possibly out of the cab. If the tractor doesn’t have a cab, it’s very easy for them to fall off. Harvest time can be a dangerous time for children.”

Finally, Aherin said grain handling safety is a growing issue in Illinois and the Midwest. “We’re particularly concerned this year because we will probably have a late harvest and possibly a record year for production of corn and soybeans. That automatically increases the worker’s exposure to safety issues in the handling and storage of grain,” he said. “My first advice to farm workers would be to stay out of grain bins if at all possible.

“Of course, that’s not always possible,” he continued, “so one of the most critical things you need to remember is never go in a bin when grain is flowing out. It might not seem dangerous, but so many things can happen. If you lose your footing, or if you drop your shovel and reach for it and you’re standing on grain that’s bridged or clumped together, it can avalanche and you’ll slide into the center of the bin. At that point it only takes three to four seconds before the grain flow is above your knees, and 15 to 25 seconds before you’re completely engulfed.”

If you must enter a bin, Aherin said it is essential to wear a lifeline. “If you’re engulfed without a lifeline, your chance of survival is around 20 percent. Workers who are partially entrapped in grain do survive, but unless your local fire department has confined space entry training, you likely will have to wait for a tech rescue team. We only have a half-dozen around the state, and they can be more than an hour away from a site. It can take quite a long time to free someone, and depending on their age and health condition, the person entrapped can succumb to the stress that exposure puts on their body.”

In Illinois alone, there were 10 fatalities related to grain handling in 2010, which prompted Aherin and others to establish the Grain Handling Safety Coalition. The coalition, which consists of members from over 20 organizations, is currently supported by grants received from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, and in kind contributions by member organizations. The coalition promotes grain safety awareness and provides prevention training for producers and their employees, as well as elevator owners, operators and employees. To learn more about grain safety, including safe entry of a grain bin and the basics of a life-line system set-up, visit

“We want producers to be prosperous, but our primary concern is to keep them safe,” Aherin concluded. “The products they provide are incredibly valuable, but nothing is as valuable as the lives of family, friends, employees and neighbors.” 


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.