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Fall Farm Safety Reminders

Fall is a busy time, with choppers and combines in full throttle and everything that comes with it like farm trucks and tractors on roads, packing trenches, filling grain bins and more. We recently interviewed Jana Davidson, Content Education Specialist with the Progressive Ag Foundation. Jana discussed the Progressive Ag Foundation’s role and important safety tips for this time of year. Listen to the full podcast episode with Jana here.

 

 

Before we begin, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and the Progressive Ag Foundation.

Progressive Agriculture Foundation is the nonprofit organization that governs Progressive Agriculture Safety Days. Our program was founded in 1995.

A lot of folks ask us about the word “progressive” in our name. It is because of the Progressive Farmer magazine. The magazine wrote a series of articles back in the early 1990s that told some tragic stories about farm-related injuries and fatalities called Our Deadly Harvest. After writing about those for several months, one article in particular was a father’s heart wrenching story about the death of his son due to a tractor-related incident and his pleading with others to not let their children ride on equipment. That story in itself got the most letters to the editor that the magazine had ever seen before. The magazine looked at it and thought ‘should we keep telling these stories or should we try to do something about it?’ We're happy that they chose to do something about it.

They brought the right people together to form the program that we know and love today. The  Progressive Agriculture Safety Day Program is in our 27th year. We are recognized as the largest rural safety and health education program for children in North America. We aim to reach children between the ages of four and 13 with age appropriate, hands-on, fun, and above all safe methods.

To date, one thing we're proud about is our program has reached more than 1.8 million participants. That includes both our youth and our adult volunteers. We strive towards the mission of providing education, training and resources to make farm, ranch and rural life safer for children and their community.

A little bit about my role as the education content specialist, I am the person that's responsible for all of our curriculum. I'm always doing my best to develop new curriculum based on emerging issues and safety and health-related topics, as well as make sure that all of our current topics and our hands on activities and demonstrations are relevant, fresh, and relatable to today's youth. I also work at helping with all of our safety day coordinators throughout North America, making sure they have all the resources needed to have a successful event in their community.

Something I do on the side, prior to joining the Foundation staff in 2014, is I'm also a Safety Day Coordinator. I have been coordinating a local event in my community here in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania for the last 15 years and getting ready to have my next one on September 22.

What important safety tips should farmers keep in mind during this season?

That is an excellent question. I want to start out by first saying that I do believe that most farms are safe places, but like you mentioned, during these hectic busy times of year, we tend to abandon that safety focus. It could be because of those long hours in the field, maybe the rushing around to complete many tasks in a short amount of time, that likelihood of preventable incidents from occurring increases during harvest. When we cut corners and become complacent, it can be deadly. We need to do things like set realistic goals so we start off on the right foot.

I have a few tips to share with those listening today to help them do just that.

I always say it's important to stay alert. That's one of the best strategies to maintain your safety focus with those long days. Remember to take breaks. I know it's hard. I know sometimes you're racing against the clock or against the weather, but we need to take some breaks throughout the day.

Make sure we're eating a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water, getting a good night's sleep, and never shying away from asking for help. Our farmers are one of the best people out there to help and give a lending hand whenever needed. I know that there's others that would do the same. So if you are very busy, make sure you ask for help.

Also, it's an important practice to review safety protocols with all the helpers and workers on your farm. This includes both new workers and seasoned because it's just good to have that refresher and keep safety, again, at the forefront.

I always say continuously check for blind spots and take time to do a walkabout of your equipment. You never know what could be around it. It is hard to see when you're up there in the driver's seat.

If you're traveling on rural roadways, it's important to be as visible as possible. Make sure you have a clean SMV or slow moving vehicle emblem that is evident on all your tractors or implements. When appropriate, use hand signals and use lighting during evenings or inclement weather. Don't forget the PPE, your personal protective equipment, things like your rollover protection bars on your tractor and hearing protection. Also, eye protection is so important

I also like to stress that our farmers, it's not just their responsibility, it's everyone's responsibility, to share that roadway. So all of us that are out there on the rural road roadways, we need to also have patience, slow down and use caution because we know that during these times of year, it's going to be more hectic, just like we're seeing right now with school back in session and more school buses. We all want to make sure that we're getting home safely each night to our families and that's everybody's responsibility.

My last tip that I'll leave everyone with is remembering that we are our child's first teacher. As parents or grandparents it is important to always be role modeling safe and healthy behaviors. It's important to know that if your child sees you doing something safely or investing in safety and making it a priority, the likelihood of them doing it as well will be greatly increased.

Harvest time is especially exciting for children wanting to watch and participate in all of the activities on the farm. What suggestions do you have to keep children safe?

The best thing to remember with children is to put ourselves back in that position when we were younger. Children are curious, but they don't always understand all those dangers that can take place on the farm.

A couple of statistics I want to share with you that are just sobering is the fact that every three days a child dies due to an ag-related incident. This is from the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. The sad thing is many of these incidents could have been prevented. The majority of them involve things like ATVs, machinery and livestock.

Another statistic is that about every day 33 children are injured due to an ag-related incident. When we look at if the child was working on the farm, most of them were not. 60% of the children that were injured were not working when the incident occurred. So again, they could be in that blind spot at the wrong place at the wrong time. That's why it's important to have those conversations with our children about safe practices on the farm.

For children helping or working on the farm, we always want to make sure that we're giving them age appropriate and developmentally appropriate tasks. We want to make sure that they understand the risks involved in all the necessary safety precautions and what pieces of personal protective equipment should they be wearing to complete those tasks.

Now for younger children, again, we need to have that conversation we mentioned already about blind spots. While equipment may be easily visible to that child, that child may not be visible to the operator. We need to remind children that the farm is a very busy and active workplace and it's not a place to be playing.

We want to teach them not to be climbing or riding on equipment. It may be hard for some folks because it could be tradition, but we also discourage children riding on tractors or equipment because we like to use the saying, it's easier to bury a tradition than a child because we hear about the statistics.

We see the articles each week about these children that are injured, just doing something simple that maybe we all did as a child, or maybe we did with our grandparents or our parents. Things can happen in an instant, and we need to always keep safety at the forefront.

Last but not least, when we are talking about our little ones and having them on the farm, if they're not of age to be helping or working yet, it's important to designate a safe play area for them. Some place that's away from all the hazards, but also within vision of a responsible adult. We need to make sure that that area has boundaries. So some type of physical barrier, like a fence. We also need to make sure that if we're sending the child to this play area, we need to make sure it's safe by keeping it well-maintained, grass mowed, snow removed and also just examining it regularly for any potential hazard.

Lastly, farm safety includes much more than just our physical health, but our mental health as well. Could you share some ways that farmers, or really anyone, can strengthen their mental well-being and stress management?

Sure. One important thing to remember is that our mental health and our physical health go hand-in-hand. Taking into account our physical health, we need to ensure that we are seeing our doctors regularly, going in for our checkups, adopting a good exercise regimen, eating healthy and not skipping meals. And again, drink plenty of water and get a good night's sleep.

Both our minds and our bodies require a much needed break at the end of the day. We're all going to feel overwhelmed and stressed at times. I think the best way to prepare for stress is how we're going to respond to that stress.

Thinking about coping strategies, I'll share a few with you now and I encourage folks that are listening to think about which ones might be easy for them to adopt that they liked the best.

One simple method is just by using a stress ball. That could be a great outlet to just relieve some of the stress.

Also things like breathing exercises, meditation or yoga, and even just some physical activity. Decide what you like to do. Maybe it's a walk or a hike, or even a bike ride.

Your outlet may be entertainment. Maybe you like playing games, putting together a puzzle, or just curling up and watching a good movie or a television show. That's perfectly fine too.

Hobbies are important. Maybe you want to find something that you enjoy doing. Maybe it's something you gave up because you didn't have the time for it. Maybe it's time to get back involved with that hobby.

Also, volunteer. It feels so good to help a friend or give back to the community. It's a great way to stay connected and also cultivate relationships. It does good for your community and it does your mental well-being good as well.

I also encourage folks to make that connection. So reach out to a friend and talk about what's stressing you. I know that that's difficult. I know it can be really hard to break the ice and want to talk about it, but I encourage you to do so. You'll feel so much better. But also if you don't feel comfortable talking to someone, maybe you want to seek professional help and somebody to communicate with.

The other thing is you might be somebody who likes to write your thoughts down. So journal. Write those negative thoughts down on paper. Then you can close the book on them at the end of the day.

I also want to mention if somebody is feeling depressed, if they have thoughts of suicide, there is help. The National Prevention Suicide Lifeline is just one phone call away. It's 800-273-TALK.

We are also part of the North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Center and they have some amazing resources for farmers and for farm families. You can find out more on that at farmstress.org.

The last thing I leave you with is just the importance of also understanding and recognizing that children feel stress too. That's why the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day Program developed mental wellbeing and stress management curriculum in large part due to our friends at Farm Credit, as one of our sponsors for the program. We also received additional grant funding through the Central State Center for Ag Safety and Health, one of our NIOSH Ag Centers in Omaha, Nebraska. Our goal with this curriculum is to help children understand and respond to their emotions, identify coping strategies, many of those that I just mentioned, and also to understand the additional resources that are available to them.

As we conclude, are there any other thoughts you would like to share with our listeners?

I want to stress one more opportunity that is coming up, that everyone can take part in - Progressive Agriculture Safety Days. We are a huge supporter of National Farm Safety and Health Week, which is coming up on September 19 - 25. The overall theme this year is Farm Safety Yields Real Results. It's a good reminder that a safety should never take a backseat on the farm or the ranch.

Each day has a different theme or topic area:

  • Monday, September 20 - Tractor safety and rural roadway safety
  • Tuesday, September 21 - Overall farmer health
  • Wednesday, September 22 - Safety and health for youth in agriculture
  • Thursday, September 23 - Agricultural fertilizer and chemical safety
  • Friday, September 24 - Safety and health for women in agriculture

You can learn more about this week and the resources available through the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety at NECASAG.org. Or you can always follow us PAF Safety Days on any form of social media to get those resources during the week.

Before we close today, I want to personally extend an invitation to all the listeners who may be interested about Progressive Agriculture Safety Days. Maybe they want to find out a little bit more about us, or maybe they want to apply to coordinate an event in 2022. We have extended our application deadline, and you can apply directly on our website. It's ProgressiveAg.org, and we have an Apply Now button or a Get Involved tab. Either one of those will lead you to the application. It's so easy to get involved.

Training this year is going to be entirely online and predominantly at your own pace, which a lot of folks will like. We also are going to offer lunch-and-learn style booster sessions, which will really be offered on a variety of topics and help customize your training experience. Once you're trained, you’ll going to receive all the curriculum including access to more than 30 different safety and health-related topic lesson plans, hundreds of hands-on activities and demonstrations, a planning manual, and so many other resources. These will all be housed at your own personal website, and there's much more that we provide.

So if you're interested, go there and apply. If you're not interested in hosting or coordinating this year, but you want to pay it forward you can donate and help more children go through our program. There is a Donate Now button and donations are always appreciated and help us continue our mission.

We also have a Safety Day Corner column that you can also access from our website. We try to post a column there monthly, and it's always on specific relevant stories related to safety and health.


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