As growers prepare for the upcoming harvest season, safety experts from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences are offering safety tips for senior-aged farmers, particularly those who may have diminished sensory levels but are still very much actively working on the farm.
The average age of a farmer in Ohio is 57, with more elderly farmers staying involved with the farm for financial reasons, because they want to remain active, or because it’s their lifestyle, said Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility program coordinator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.
Ohio AgrAbility is part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that promotes independence for people in agriculture who want to continue farming after experiencing a disabling condition. OSU Extension has partnered with Easter Seals TriState to combine resources, knowledge and outreach to bridge the gap between farmers with a disability and the resources and services available to help them remain productive on the farm.
But with increased work during busy seasons such as harvest, older farmers are also at an increased risk of injury or even death, said McGuire, who is also a part of the college’s agriculture safety team.
“The Farm Fatality Injury Database of Ohio indicates 40 percent of farm-related fatalities in the last 10 years involved farmers ages 61 and over,” he said. “For older farmers, a physically and mentally demanding harvest season can present a variety of health and safety issues, including a higher risk of injury due to diminished sensory systems.
“Many farmers may not be aware of changes in their sensory systems since they gradually diminish over time.”
Some common sensory areas that tend to decline include reaction time, balance, the musculoskeletal and respiratory systems, hearing and vision, McGuire said.
“We’ve worked with farmers who have diminished hearing due to working around loud noise over long periods of time,” he said. “This is especially true in the left ear because in the past it has been directly in line with the muffler of the tractor as the farmer looks back at the implement being pulled.
“Vision also plays a role because many farm tasks are done in early morning or later in the evening when we have low-light conditions. Farmers will work until the job is done, and many times can lead to working in those low-light conditions. Low-light conditions coupled with diminished vision can result in serious injury.”
To that end, members of the college’s agriculture safety team are promoting National Farm Safety Week Sept. 15-21 to publicize programs and other resources available to help protect farm families and farm workers from farm-related injuries and deaths.
The weeklong communication efforts, McGuire said, include daily promotions via social media of farm-safety related topics. More information on agriculture safety and farm safety week can be found at https://agsafety.osu.edu.
Some safety tips for older farmers include:
- Minimize machine or background noise.
- Get regular vision exams.
- Use sufficient lighting in darkness and reduce glare in extreme brightness.
- Avoid crossing between dim areas and brightly lit areas.
- Exercise caution when working in extreme hot or cold temperatures.
- Be alert and focus on the task at hand, because sense of touch can diminish with age.
- Keep walking surfaces and working surfaces dry and free from obstacles or debris.
- Maintain three points of contact when mounting or dismounting equipment -- that is, use one hand and both feet for support or use both hands and one foot for support.
- Anticipate changes in ground elevation or rough terrain.
- When increased efforts are needed, ask for help or use mechanical means.
- Organize work areas to avoid reaching above shoulder level or from an awkward position.
- Minimize repetitive tasks and avoid prolonged standing.
- Make an effort to minimize vibration when using tools or equipment.
- Be cautious of physically demanding activities that are not routinely performed.
- Set a pace and take breaks while performing work tasks over a long period of time.
- Use personal protective equipment when appropriate, such as ear plugs, safety glasses and gloves.