Cheryl Skjolaas
Cheryl Skjolaas
MADISON, Wis. – Spring is an exciting and busy time of year on the farm. As the air gets warmer and the days become longer, farmers take to the fields, making this the perfect time of year to also revisit procedures that ensure the safety of all employees and family members.
Cheryl Skjolaas and Marsha Salzwedel provided a refresher on top safety concerns for the upcoming planting and growing season during a recent Professional Dairy Producers Dairy Signal webinar titled, “Farm safety tips for all ages.”
“Safety has to start with you,” said Skjolaas, agricultural safety and health specialist for the Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Your actions and role modeling are critical. Whether it’s for a younger worker, new employee or family member, the attitude you bring toward your work is a big factor. For example, if your policy is to wear a seatbelt when operating a tractor but you hop in that tractor and don’t put the seatbelt on, you’re not being a good role model.”
Salzwedel, project scientist at the National Farm Medicine Center, agreed.
“One of the most powerful tools in our tool kit is modeling,” Salzwedel said. “Employees are always going to do what they see rather than what you say.”
Tractors are a primary cause of fatalities on farms, and overturns are the most common incident involving tractors, Skjolaas said. Tractors should have a rollover protective structure, and operators should always wear a seatbelt. Some states have programs for retrofitting a tractor with a ROPS. Make sure the tractor is in good condition and ensure implements used with a tractor are appropriate for that tractor. Also, the tractor should be weighted properly for its size and tow.
“Look at how you’re using equipment and what you may need to do to prevent overturns, such as slowing down or not working a hill or slope,” Skjolaas said.
Well-maintained equipment can go a long way in promoting safety and preventing shortcuts and patch jobs in the field. Also, pay attention to details. For example, does the hitch pin have the proper safety connection to it? Is the power take-off shield in good condition? Does it have any cracks? Is the whole PTO shield from the tractor to the powered implement in place?
“Build some gaps into your schedule so you can handle time pressures,” Skjolaas said. “Have backup plans and a list of phone numbers available and second pieces of parts that may go.”
Make sure everyone on the farm is trained on equipment that may not be used on a regular basis. Pull out operator’s manuals and take a look at safety requirements, and discuss these requirements with employees who are going to operate that equipment. Also, go over emergency scenarios. If there are injuries or someone is caught in equipment, how should people respond?
“If nothing else, it’s important everybody on the farm knows how to turn that tractor or self-propelled implement on and off,” Skjolaas said.
Skjolaas stressed the importance of a communications plan for the individual who is working alone. Make sure someone knows where that person is going and their expected time of return.
“On our farm, there was always a note on the kitchen table so we knew who was where,” Skjolaas said. “For example, if Dad was going up in the silo, somebody knew that. Don’t just rely on a person to call you on your cell phone. Because if something happens to them, they probably won’t be able to give you that call.”
In the event of an emergency, a farm map can direct medical personnel to an accident site quickly and efficiently. Skjolaas recommends creating a map of the farm that includes: roads and crossroads; buildings and locations; silos, grain storage and manure storage; wells, hydrants, ponds and streams; location of septic/wastewater systems; chemical/fertilizer storage; overhead and buried power lines; and gas and electrical shutoffs.
    “The National Farm Medicine Center has a great program called Farm Mapper to help you make a map of your farm,” Skjolaas said. “We don’t know when emergencies are going to happen, and time is precious. Giving this information to first responders will allow for the best first response opportunity.”
Skjolaas said to keep first aid kits in more than one place and stocked with heavy-duty scissors, so if a piece of clothing is entangled, it can be cut free. Also, keep absorbing materials like towels or a blanket in vehicles and out in the field so emergency action steps can be taken while waiting for ambulance and first responders to arrive.
“There’s a lot you can do with a roll of paper towel and duct tape as well, like stabilize an injury,” Skjolaas said.  
Skjolaas said road incidents make up a fair number of fatalities in Wisconsin. Before going on the road, check equipment to ensure it has adequate lighting and marking. The bright orange and red emblems denoting a slow-moving vehicle should be in good condition.
“There are a lot of emblems out there getting faded and dull, and they should be replaced,” Skjolaas said. “Go to the Division of Motor Vehicles website and check that you’re meeting lighting and marking requirements.”
A driver’s license is not required for agricultural purposes, but youth operators ages 12-15 must have a state certificate of completion for the Wisconsin Safe Operation of Tractor and Machinery Certification Program.
“Farms are a great place for kids to grow up, work and live,” Salzwedel said. “But farms also present challenges and risks that can lead to injury or death. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. and the only worksite in our nation where children of any age can be present.”
According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, a child dies in an ag-related incident in this country about every three days, and each day, approximately 33 children are seriously injured on farms. Of these injuries, 60% happen to children who are not working – oftentimes toddlers. Salzwedel pointed out that long-term disabilities impact the youth plus the entire farm enterprise.
“An injury like this can wipe out a farm’s annual income in just seconds,” she said.
The top three causes of fatalities involve machinery, motor vehicles and drowning, with tractors being the No. 1 cause of death. Drowning deaths are attributed not only to farm ponds, irrigation ponds, creeks and rivers, but also include things like manure pits and grain bins. The leading causes of injuries come from falls, animals and machinery/vehicles.
“While the use of ATVS and skid steers have provided huge benefits in getting work done, they’ve also contributed significantly to injuries both to adults and children,” Salzwedel said.
The economic cost of youth farm injuries is substantial, costing society $1.26 billion a year, Salzwedel said. To ensure children’s safety, she recommends the following: keep kids away from tractors; keep young children out of the worksite; build safe, fenced-in play areas; and provide work training to kids old enough to conduct tasks.
“The number of injuries go up tremendously during planting and harvesting seasons,” Salzwedel said. “Fatigue is a huge contributor to injuries. Everyone is tired during this busy time of year on the farm. Make sure you get adequate sleep, and make sure you know where your children are.”