Health and safety experts offer strategies for reducing farm-related injuries

Working in agriculture can be a risky business. The daily interaction with animals, equipment operation and long, tiresome workdays can put farmers’ wellbeing in jeopardy. In fact, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the country. 

The NIOSH states farmers are at an exceptionally high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries. The institute cites data from 2021 that reveals people working in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industries experienced fatal injury rates at 20 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers, compared to a rate of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers for all other industries in the United States.

The data gathered by the NIOSH lists transportation accidents, such as tractor overturns and roadway crashes, as the leading cause of death for farmers. Additionally, other causes include contact with objects and equipment, violence by other persons or animals, and falls, slips and trips. 

  Additionally, not only are farmers themselves working in a dangerous occupation but the agriculture industry is one of the few in which family members are also susceptible to fatal and nonfatal injuries. 

Safety Practices

This time of the year it’s particularly important for producers to brush up on farm safety protocols. “Planting season brings increased risk of physical injury and mental stress among farmers, farmworkers, and families. Before heading to the fields, review basic safety lessons with workers and family members,” Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Extension health and safety specialist, advised. 

There are precautions producers should take when driving, working with animals, using chemicals, and dealing with physical and mental health issues. 

Rules of the Road

One of the first precautions producers can take is to ensure their equipment has a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem attached. Farmers should check turn signals and mirrors on equipment before driving. Additionally, keeping cellphones down and other distractions to a minimum will improve safety. 

Funkenbusch suggests farmers discourage children from riding on tractors. Children can fall or become injured in power takeoff (PTO) accidents. “If there are children on the farm, make a habit of walking around equipment before starting the tractor. Avoid loose-fitting clothing and tie back long hair to avoid PTO tragedies,” Funkenbusch added. 

Animal Safety

Though machinery accidents top the list of causes for farm injuries, according to the National Ag Safety Database the number of farm injuries involving animals ranks second.  

“Animals may look friendly but can easily feel spooked or threatened when approached by people who are not their usual caretakers. Train visitors to respect the animals and be alert around livestock,” Funkenbusch said. 

Handling Chemicals

Health and safety specialists recommend utilizing protective equipment when working around herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers. Take the time to read and follow the product’s label instructions. Keep chemicals in the original containers and away from children. Make sure the phone number of the local poison control center or the National Poison Center is easily accessible.

Fighting Fatigue

Many of the accidents that occur on farms can be attributed to lack of sleep. University of Missouri Extension specialists state farm safety depends on good sleep, especially when handling animals or equipment.  

Tips to avoid fatigue on the farm:

• Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

• Create a relaxing bedtime routine.

• Keep the bedroom cool, quiet and dark.

• Use a supportive, comfortable mattress and pillows.

• Finish meals two to three hours before bedtime.

• Exercise regularly.

• Limit alcohol, caffeine and nicotine especially near bedtime.

• Drink plenty of water and plan meals to avoid last-minute choices that may not be healthy.

• Balance and prioritize farming activities with family, community and social events.

Mental Health

Farmers may also struggle with mental health issues. “In addition to physical injuries, farmers are also at risk of behavioral and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, substance use and death by suicide,” Funkenbusch explained.  Many extension offices offer programs to help people in the agricultural industry work through physical and mental health issues. For example, the University of Missouri Extension offers resources to promote rural mental health awareness and free telehealth counseling by a trusted, professional who understands agriculture.


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