Safety First Rests in Farmer’s Own Hands

10/6/2012 7:00 AM

We’ve all been a little rushed, a little tired or a little too impatient when working on the farm. If you’re like me, you’ve even had a few close calls, and you know someone who was injured or even killed.

We know what to do — how to operate equipment safely and what tips to follow when agitating or pumping manure pits — but sometimes we make mistakes or ignore our best intentions.

Recently in Somerset County, a child accidentally engaged the starter of a tractor. He fell off and was killed when the tractor ran over him. Working farms can be magical places for children, but they are not a playground.

Agriculture continues to rank as one of the most dangerous occupations in North America.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nationally there were 238 fatal injuries in the crop production sector and 147 fatal injuries in the animal production sector just last year.

According to Penn State, there were 25 fatal incidents in Pennsylvania in 2011. They involved either farm production work or rural living activities such as cutting down trees or recreational swimming in farm ponds. Even more, Pennsylvania is among a handful of states with the highest rates of tractor overturn fatalities in the nation.

Though safety is a concern all year, fall can be particularly dangerous on the farm because farmers are agitating manure pits.

Dangerous gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and methane can build up when manure is stored, especially in confined spaces like underground covered waste storage tanks.

Open-air waste storage facilities and lagoons can also develop and release hazardous levels of these gases, especially during the agitation and pump-out process.

The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service raised concerns recently that gypsum used for bedding may increase the production of potentially lethal hydrogen sulfide in manure storage facilities.

Gypsum is a low-cost byproduct of certain manufacturing and industrial processes and contains sulfur. Producers should use extra caution when managing manure storage facilities on operations where gypsum is used.

If you’re managing animal waste, remember:

Always have first aid equipment nearby.

Wear personal protective equipment, including air packs and face masks, a nylon line with snap buckles, safety harness, floatation devices, safety signs and hazardous atmosphere testing kits.

Do not enter a manure pit unless absolutely necessary and only then if the pit is first ventilated, air is supplied to a mask or a self-contained breathing apparatus, a safety harness and attached rope is put on and there are two people standing by.

Minimize hazards by agitating manure on windy days.

Understand the symptoms and effects of gas poisoning.

During agitation and pump-out operations, ensure nonessential workers or bystanders are away from the manure storage facility.

Have an emergency action plan, including telephone numbers of local emergency personnel.

Train all family members and employees in first-aid, CPR techniques and safety procedures.

For open storage facilities, put a fence around it and post “Keep Out” signs that warn of the hazard.

Give special instructions to children and those who cannot read in the dangers of manure storage facilities.

Farmers are also taking to the fields in combines for shelling. Each year, equipment operators are injured, sometimes fatally, in harvesting equipment accidents that are almost always preventable.

Remember to perform regular equipment maintenance, install safety devices on equipment and use protection such as ear plugs and eye goggles.

Before servicing your machine, always ensure it’s turned off. Only experienced operators should drive equipment, and remember — most farm machinery has only one seat.

Pesticide safety is another major concern on Pennsylvania farms. There are more than 14,000 pesticides registered in the state.

Each year, the state’s poison control hotline receives calls related to pesticide exposure on farms, many of which can be prevented. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture partners with Penn State University to offer pesticide safety training, including these important tips:

Always read the pesticide label completely.

Beware of first aid measures listed on the label.

Wear personal protective equipment required on the label, for example gloves and a mask.

Keep pesticides in a locked storage area with adequate ventilation.

Store pesticides in their original container.

If you have unused or unwanted pesticide on your farm, consider participating in ChemSweep, a free pesticide disposal program. We just recognized the 2 millionth pound of old pesticides collected through the program at a farm in Lebanon County last month. Visit

Farm safety is in your hands. Take the time to get the job done right and save a life. For more information, visit

George Greig is the Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture.

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