Hazards on the Farm

News Article -

A farm can be an exciting place to live and work. It’s full of equipment and animals most people don’t interact with or even see on a day to day basis. While a farm is an interesting place to be it also presents certain hazards to those working on the farm or even just visiting. As an enumerator it’s important to have a good understanding of these hazards and how to protect yourself. Take it from this author who grew up on a dairy farm. And who broke many bones in his adolescence from falling through holes in a hay mile floor to getting kicked and run over by livestock to many close calls with farm equipment.

Walking & Working Surfaces

The landscape on a farm can be unpredictable from one step to the next. Depending where on the farm you are you can expect to find things from normal tire ruts, to rocks, tools, nails, and animal droppings in your pathway. In particular be cautious if you are entering barns or other buildings on the farms. These may pose unique hazards. As I alluded to earlier, hay miles usually have holes in the floor so hay can be transported to the lower level to feed livestock. Sometimes these holes have a cover and sometimes they are even used. Other times they present a significant fall hazard of 10-12 feet, typically onto a concrete floor or into a cattle stall. These holes may also get clogged with hay or chaff and look just like the rest of the hay covered floor making it hard to discern floor from hole.

Also be cautious of ladders and stairways. These may be in disrepair which may lead to them failing when you need them the most.

Power Take Offs

Some hazards are fairly obvious while others can be much more subtle. Tractors and farm implements can pose a significant threat. Often the point of operation and power take offs (PTO) shafts are not guarded. A PTO is a shaft at the rear of a tractor. The PTO connects to a farm implement, a bailer or mower, for example, via a shaft and provides mechanical power to the implement. PTO’s can spin at extremely high rates or revolutions per minute (rpm). Loose clothing can be captured by and unguarded PTO and entangle a person in seconds leading to severe injuries or death. Even if guarded and/or spinning at low RPM’s it’s important to stay away from running PTO as they still represent a significant hazard.

Grinding and Milling Hazards

Grain dust explosions are typically associated with grain elevators, but can occur wherever sufficient quantities of grain dust are mixed with air in an enclosed space. These conditions exist in some on-farm processing machinery, such as hammermills. If metal, stones, or other non-grain material enters this machinery, sparks could be created that could ignite the dust and cause an explosion. Stones or metal that enter processing machinery can also be thrown out or cause loose or broken machine pieces to be thrown out, resulting in severe injuries. If you approach a grain or mill operation that is extremely dust its best to stay away and complete your work elsewhere. If you do enter these areas take care not to bring anything into the environment that might cause a spark or create an ignition source. Make sure you have grounded yourself before entering to discharge any static electricity you may have accumulated on your body.

Grain and Silage Handling

Suffocation under silage or grain was the leading cause of grain-handling fatalities for the period 1985 through 1989. Many other hazards are also associated with silage and grain storage, such as being crushed by a collapse of crusted material, falling from a bin or silo, or being injured in a fire or explosion.

Suffocation in grain bins usually occurs when a person is buried while the bin is being emptied. Flat-bottomed grain bins are usually emptied through the center of the bin floor. Shortly after the grain starts flowing, a funnel-shaped flow pattern develops in which grain from the surface flows to the center, then down to the floor in a column. A person entering the bin will be carried to the center and quickly drawn under in this column of grain. The flowing grain behaves similarly to quicksand, making escape very difficult. While you usually only sink several inches to a foot in still grain, you can sink to your knees almost immediately in flowing grain. In 10 seconds or less, you will be thigh-deep and unable to free yourself, since the moving grain cannot develop support. Typical unloading rates will completely bury a worker in less than a minute. In addition, some grains, such as flax and millet, cannot support a person, even when still.

Grain & Silage Structures

Fermenting silage produces nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). NO2 and N2O4 are respiratory irritants. Low concentrations of NO2 can cause coughing, difficulty in breathing, or nausea. Higher concentrations may cause the lungs to fill with fluid, which can result in death. These symptoms may be immediate or may be delayed for several hours, for example, until night when the person is asleep.

A suffocation hazard also exists from the gases given off from spoiling grain. For example, the carbon dioxide (CO2) given off is heavier than air and will collect above the grain surface. You cannot smell, see, or taste the CO2. If enough gas has collected to decrease the oxygen concentration from the normal 21 percent to less than 19.5 percent, you will think less clearly, become drowsy, lose consciousness, or even die.
Do not place you head of body into silos or other silage and grain storage structures. One breath may be enough to cause disorientation making self-rescue from the area difficult.

Livestock and Pets

Livestock and even the family dog are unpredictable. Animals can be aggressive toward new persons and set off by objects and smells. It’s best to not directly interact with animals that are not known to you. When in the presence of animals consider this tips:

  • Be calm and deliberate around livestock; avoid sudden movements.
  • Avoid the animal’s “blind spot.” Approach from the front or side.
  • Avoid loud noises, and do not yell.
  • When working around livestock, always leave yourself a way out, especially when working in close quarters. (Many injuries are caused by a startled animal pinning the handler against some surface.)
  • Always use extreme caution around all male farm animals. While bulls account for only 2 percent of the cattle population, they are responsible for more than half of the fatalities.

1) Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service http://fcs.tamu.edu/health/healthhints/2009/dec/livestock.pdf
2) Centers for Disease Control National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, Safe Grain and Silage Handlinghttp://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/95-109/summary.html
3) OSHA Safety and Health Topics, Agricultural Operations: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/topics/agriculturaloperations/hazards_controls.html