When most people think of hazardous jobs, they might picture police officers, firefighters or some industrial factory job.
But Ellen Duysen can paint a whole different picture of a hazardous workplace:
“Farming is the most hazardous industry in the U.S.,” said Duysen, outreach specialist for UNMC’s Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.
There are many dangers.
“A lot the equipment is inherently dangerous,” she said. “A lot of farmers work alone and the average age is about 58 years old right now.”
Farmers also do many different tasks in any given day from driving a tractor to working with hogs giving birth — all in a few hours’ time.
Tractor rollovers are the No. 1 cause of fatalities. Farmers are ejected and pinned in these types of accidents.
But Duysen cites preventative measures.
“If every farmer had ROPS — Rollover Protective Structure — and wore a seatbelt, they’d have a 98 percent chance of survival on a rollover,” she said.
Accidents such as tractor rollovers tend to make the news, but Duysen also points out chronic conditions that affect farmers such as lung disease and hearing loss.
The farming population has a high incidence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) because of exposure to grain dust, pesticides and other inhalable organic materials.
“We’d like them to find ways to get rid of the dust such as using vents and fans in their grain bins, wearing protection (masks) when cleaning grain bins or with exposure to any inhalants,” Duysen said. “We like to tell folks, ‘If you can see dust in the air, you need to have a mask.”
Linda Emanuel, a registered nurse, is part of AgriSafe, a nonprofit international company.
“Our focus is to protect farmers and ranchers and give the ability to have good access to personal protection equipment related to agriculture,” she said. “We work within the United States addressing all types of ag illnesses.”
The firm also has educational webinars and training.
Three free webinars are available during Grain Bin Safety Week — Feb. 18-24. Webinar times and dates are:
Noon, Feb. 20 — Agricultural Respiratory Hazards & Prevention Strategies, Charlotte Halverson, AgriSafe clinical director. This will cover respiratory hazards associated with agricultural exposure with an emphasis on grain handling operations.
Noon, Feb. 22 — Confined Space – Grain Bin Entry, Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety and paramedic. This is for grain industry workers and managers. This includes grain elevators, farm operators and workers, grain haulers and ag-business owners. The focus is on safety in confined space work areas including entry, respiratory protection and prevention of grain dust explosions, space entry and lock out procedures.
Noon, Feb. 23 — Respiratory Protection Program, Charlotte Halverson, AgriSafe clinical director. Training will help ag-based employers who require respirator use to comply with the OSHA respiratory protection program standard.
To register, visit www.agrisafe.org.
AgriSafe also has information on a variety of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirators (particle-filtering masks and other protective equipment).
Respirators help prevent dusts, molds and other hazards from entering the airway and lungs. Serious diseases can result from one-time and repeated exposure to respiratory hazards.
Those in the ag industry also need to be aware of farmer’s lung, the acute form a lung disorder, Duysen said.
“It has flu-like symptoms,” she said.
Those who’ve come out of a grain bin without respiratory protection can have body aches and coughs.
Emanuel instructs producers and corporate groups.
“We’re willing to do some personal outreach and giving good information about the correct type of masks and the maintenance of them – the right mask with the right fit for the right environment,” she said.
Duysen noted that some farmers may not want to wear a mask, because they said it steams up their eye glasses.
“We can tell them that just means they’re not getting a good fit and we show them how to properly fit that mask or they don’t have the right size mask,” Duysen said. “People may not understand there are different size masks. They may feel like it’s hard to breathe against and so they have masks with valves that help. The mask manufacturers, 3M in particular, has come up with a lot of solutions to that problem with these valves.
“But what we really want to drive home is – with the cost of these, it is minimal compared to even a one-day stay in the hospital.”