Stress and fatigue lead to farm accidents
Farm Safety Week is Sept. 20-26

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/22/98.

During the 55th observance of Farm Safety Week, Sept. 20 to 26, farmers and their families are looking at their farming operations to ensure they will not become a farming statistic.

Stress and fatigue are major factors in making farming the countryís second most hazardous occupation.

According to research studies, John Shutske, farm safety and health specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, said, mining ranks first. Farming ranks 12th most stressful among 130 high-stress occupations.

ďSo far this year 15 Minnesota farmers, workers and children have died in farm accidents,Ē Shutske added.

According to Harborview Injury Prevention Center, 104 children and adolescents suffer fatal farm injuries each year nationwide. This equals two children per week that die due to farming incidents.

Farmers face a variety of stressful things, many beyond their control,Ē Shutske points out. ďTwo prime examples are weather and markets, both of which directly affect a farm familyís livelihood. Factors people canít control cause them the most stress.Ē

Farming is also one of the few remaining occupations where much of the work takes place outside. In Minnesota, this means weather extremes ranging from sub-zero temperatures and the risk of frostbite to hot, humid summer conditions with high potential for heat stress.

Stress increases the potential for an accident or injury. Farmers under stress are often distracted. They are more likely to make critical mistakes, perform tasks out of sequence or forget important procedures such as turning off a rotating machine part before servicing it.

ďI once had a farmer tell of being so preoccupied during corn harvest that he found himself on top of the combineís corn header late at night trying to unplug it with the header still engaged and the engine running at full idle,Ē Shutske recalls. ďHe suddenly snapped out of this trance-like state and realized he was inches from possible death.Ē

Fatigue is another risk factor for nearly all types of industrial injuries. Shutske cites a recent study of dairy farmers showing their risk for serious injury rises rapidly as they increase their work hours. During busy harvest seasons, it is common for farmers to work 100 hours a week or more, sometimes for several weeks straight.

Other suggestions Shutske offers for reducing farm stress and fatigue are:

ēAsk for help from people who have access to information or services that can help you through tough times. Often, people have difficulty realizing they are not alone in dealing with high stress level.

ēTake time to make purposeful, concrete changes to reduce farm hazards. Itís impossible to be stress free, so make sure you have backup measures in place. These include machinery guards, rollover protection on tractors and machinery lighting and marking for road travel. Tractor rollovers and roadway collisions are among the greatest farming hazards. Wear seatbelts when driving any type of vehicle be it a tractor or your car.

ēTake care of yourself. Get regular medical checkups. Let your doctor know how you feel physically and emotionally. No producers would dream of putting poor, low-grade fuel in a tractor. Yet during the busy harvest season, we may eat junk food or high-fat food on the run, or worse yet, not eat at all.

ēBe extremely careful with your kids. Of Minnesotaís 15 farm work deaths this year, five have involved children. Make sure young kids have a safe, out-of-the-way place to play. Take precautions to insure that teens operating equipment or doing chores have the appropriate mental and physical maturity to do the job safely.

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