Farm Safety and Health in the Spotlight


September 21, 2020



In a couple of weeks, we will enter full-scale Fall harvest for the 2020 growing season, which makes it is a good time for farm families to review the farm safety procedures in their farming operation. More farm accidents occur during the Fall than at any other time of the year, and usually involve one or more farm family members. Special care should be taken with children and senior citizens around farm and grain handling equipment, as these groups are the most vulnerable to farm accidents. The week of September 20-26 has been designated as “National Farm Safety and Health Week”, which is intended to bring extra focus on farm safety and health issues during the Fall harvest season.

The 2020 theme of this special week is “Every Farmer Counts”, which is a reminder that it is in everyone’s best interest to prioritize farm safety and health throughout the year for families and others involved in the agriculture industry. Federal and state statistics continue list agriculture as one of the most dangerous professions in the United States, with 574 deaths as recently as 2018. This translates to 23.4 deaths per 100,000 farm workers. Farming is one of the few industries in which family members often times work and live on the same premises. This makes farm families at much higher risk for fatal and non-fatal injuries in the workplace, compared to most other professions.

Based on recent USDA data, it is estimated that there are over 1.5 million full-time workers in production agriculture on U.S. farms. It is also estimated that nearly 900,000 youth under 20 years of age were residing on farms, and that over half of the youth residing on farms performed some type of farm work. In addition, there over 250,000 non-resident youth hired to work on farms, and over 20,000 youth that visit farms in any given year. While the overall rate of farm injuries has declined in recent years, the farm accident rate for youth living on farms has held steady, and even increased slightly for youth 10-19 years old. Based on data from the National Children’s Center for Rural and agricultural Health and Safety, a child dies in a fam-related accident every three days in the U.S. In addition, an average of 33 children are injured every day on the farm.

In recent years, work-related fatalities in agriculture among workers 16 years of age and younger were higher than all other non-agricultural industries combined. Forty seven percent of all youth facilities on farms involve vehicles, including tractors, ATV’s and UTV’s. Other leading sources of death or injury for youth that reside and work on farms include farm machinery at 20 percent and interaction with animals or humans at 13 percent. Interestingly according to the data, 60 percent of ag-related youth injuries occurred to children that were not working on the farm at the time of the accident and for non-farm youth that were visiting farms.

It is important for adults to adopt sound farm safety practices for their own personal safety on the farm, as well as being important for adults to be good role models for youth when it comes to farm safety. Here are some good tips to remember regarding farm safety for youth ……

  • Always walk around equipment before starting it to make sure there are no kids near.
  • Never allow young kids to climb or play on farm equipment, even when it is not running.
  • Always lock equipment and remove the keys at the end of the day or when the machinery is not in use.
  • Do not allow young children to be passengers in tractors or other farm equipment.
  • Develop a “safe playing area” with boundaries for kids that is away from farm equipment.

Grain bins, silos, and manure pits create extra hazards on the farm and contribute to numerous farm-related deaths each year in the U.S. Be aware of the dangers of moving grain in a bin that can quickly lead to suffocation and other issues. Also take extra precaution when entering silos after harvest or livestock facilities when emptying manure pits, as toxic gases can overcome individuals very quickly and lead to a death or multiple deaths. When working in these dangerous conditions make sure that workers have the proper safety equipment and never work alone in these situations. If problems occur, call 911 immediately …… minutes can make a difference!

Research has shown that fatigue can be another major contributor to increased farm accidents, especially in the Fall. Farm operators are usually in a hurry to finish harvest and follow-up tillage in a timely fashion before Winter sets in, which can be especially challenging later in the harvest season Some ways to reduce fatigue at harvest time include getting adequate sleep, scheduling planned work breaks, eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, getting some exercise, and having a large enough labor force to stagger work schedules.

Another big danger in the Fall occurs when farmers are moving equipment or hauling grain on highways and rural roads. Farmers should always use flashing lights and slow-moving vehicle signs when travelling on roadways. The non-farm public also needs to pay extra attention when driving on rural roads during harvest season, especially before and after work or school. Farm vehicles are larger and move much slower than cars, and the Autumn sun is usually in a “bad position” during the times of heaviest traffic in the mornings and late afternoon on rural roads throughout the Fall season. The best advice is to “slow down”, pay attention, and stay off the cell phones while driving.



Obviously, a new health concern on the farm in 2020, just as it is elsewhere, is potential illness from COVID-19. The recommendations for farm workers that contract COVID-19, as well as the suggestions for prevention, are no different on the farm than for any other profession. If workers become ill, they need to be off the job for given period of time to get healthy and to avoid spreading the disease to other farm workers. Similar to other aspects of society, farm workers should follow proper protocols with social distancing, mask wearing, etc, when in vulnerable public settings, such as grain elevators, farm machinery dealers, and other businesses.

The other farm health related concern is the increasing level of stress on the farm due to COVID-related issues, poor farm profitability, damage from severe storms, and other issues. Farm bankruptcies in many Midwestern States are at the highest levels in several years. Those stress type issues can lead to increased fatigue and higher incidences farm accidents, and in severe situations can result in tragic suicides. Many times, family members and friends are the first to notice changes in the personalities of farm operators and can play a key role in preventing these tragic situations. It is important to seek professional help before it is too late !

Most Land-Grant Universities and State Agriculture Departments in the Midwest have helplines and free resources available to farm families facing difficulties due to the added stress on the farm. In Minnesota, these resources include:

  • Minnesota Farm & Rural Helpline at 1-833-600-2670.
  • Ted Matthews at (320) 266-2390 or Monica McConkey at (218) 280-7785.
  • University of Minnesota Extension website at:


Note — For additional information contact Kent Thiesse, Farm Management Analyst and Senior Vice President, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. (Phone — (507) 381-7960);  E-mail — Web Site —


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