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Farm safety a difficult challenge for farmers to tackle

June 13, 2013 | 0 comments

Wouldn't it be great to just farm?

As farms get bigger, though, farm owners and managers now also need to worry about navigating a myriad of government regulations, safety rules and legal details.

Actually farm safety has nothing to do with farm size. Safety should be a concern for every farm, regardless of size.

All farms should take care to make sure hazards are removed, safety plans are in place, guards are in place and family members understand the basics of safety.

"For most farmers, farm safety is one of the most difficult challenges for them to get their arms around," says Dr. Matthew Keifer, director of the National Farm Medicine Center.

The NFMC was established in 1981 in response to occupational health problems seen in farm patients coming to the Marshfield Clinic.

Since 1997, the Farm Center has also been home to the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural health and Safety, one of 10 agricultural centers funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Dr. Keifer says Marshfield Clinic has had a long tradition of caring for farmers, their families and employees and continues to offer the specialty FARM Clinic.

Dr. Keifer sees patients by-weekly in Marshfield and he also provides consulting services for pesticide exposures, respiratory and allergic conditions, musculoskeletal disorders affecting the ability to farm, disability issues and complex workers' compensation and other conditions arising from agricultural exposures.

Appointments can be made by calling the occupational health department at 1-877-962-2633. Since many farm work-related illnesses are uncommon, the FARM Clinic also serves as a referral point for doctors statewide.

One of the latest services offered by the NFMC is the Agricultural Safety Consulting (ASC) service.

Dr. Keifer explains, "It is a program developed to assist farmers in our modernizing agricultural industry. Agricultural deaths increased 66 percent in 2010, accounting for 32 of the 91 total occupational deaths in Wisconsin. That got the attention of the occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)."

When OSHA initiated a Local Emphasis Program to begin inspecting farm operations in Wisconsin, farmers didn't know how to react. The program involves routine inspections, focusing on common hazards in the dairy farm activities.

Shelly Mayer, director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin and a sponsor of the recent AgrAbility Summit at the Marshfield Clinic, says, "The dairy industry was taken completely off-guard when OSHA started taking an interest in dairy farms and initiating routine inspections."

Members of the PDPW have worked closely with the NFMC in the development of the consulting program to assist farmers.

Mayer sees the consulting service as another set of eyes, able to see hazards that farmers haven't noticed. The consultants then assist in correcting problems before someone gets hurt and before the OSHA inspection.

NFMC is a corporate member of the PDPW and encourages PDPW members to utilize the Agricultural Safety Consulting services offered through NFMC, offering a discount to PDPW members.

Dr. Keifer said the inspections were a real eye-opener for many farmers who were unaware of many of the hazards on their farms.

He said the consulting service helps farmers meet the basic safety standards to satisfy the requirements of OSHA and, more importantly, to help keep farm family workers and employees safe in the every-day operations of the business.

Dr. Keifer comments, "ASC offers assistance in safety program development, implementation and management and can address the Spanish language training needs of Hispanic employees. ASC is helping farms comply with OSHA requirements and good safety standards."

The service (www.marshfieldclinic.org/ASC) helps by identifying and addressing hazards and understanding regulatory compliance to conducting safety and health training services in English and/or Spanish.

"A seemingly overwhelming process became far more structured and understandable for those farm managers who have met with the ASC consultants," Dr. Keifer says.

When the consultants visit a farm they take pictures of safety hazards, made safety training modules, and instruct employees on applicable safety issues breaking it down into several categories. And each employee signs off on the safety training, making them more accountable.

Consultants also educate the farmer on safety and health regulatory compliance and program requirements related to confined space, hazardous communication, machine hazards, animal-handling techniques, electrical exposures, and personal protective equipment.

An investment in safety is a critical part of a sustainable business plan, according to Dr. Keifer.

If agritourism is part of the operation, ASC and the NFMC also have unique skills to help keep visitors safe.

Fees are limited to covering basic costs of services.

For more information or to set up a consultation, contact ASC Manager Dennis Ray, ray.dennis@marshfieldclinic.org, 715-389-4999, or 1-800-662-6900.

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