Putting farm safety into practice

UW Extension
Volunteer firefighters pause after extracting a mannequin from beneath an overturned tractor during a demonstration at the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety.

MADISON -  National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sep. 17-23, 2017, recognizes the importance of protecting agriculture’s most precious resource – its people. Putting Farm Safety into Practice is the theme of the 74Th annual event that promotes safe and healthy practices on farms.

Farming ranks as the most dangerous industry in the U.S. with a yearly death rate of 20.4 farm work related deaths for every 100,000 workers – six times higher than the combined average for all U.S. workers, according to the National Safety Council. The most recent farm fatality count in Wisconsin, released in late 2016 by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, showed 26 farmers, employees, and/or family members died in 2015 from farm work-related causes.

Nationally, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that 100 agriculture workers experience a lost-time injury each day. A telephone-based survey of nearly 4,000 farm households in the Midwest several years ago showed that an injury occurs on almost one in five Wisconsin farms each year; more than 80 percent of these require medical care.

Over the past 30 years, efforts by the agriculture industry, media, and groups like Extension, non-profits and governmental agencies have contributed to a decline in the number of fatalities; in 1987, the fatality rate was 53 per 100,000.

The University of Wisconsin Center for Agricultural Safety and Health works with local educators, farmers, health professionals, and key partners in the public and private sectors to provide education, technical consultation, and guidance to community and industry leaders who share the goal of reducing the burden of agricultural injury and disease for Wisconsin.

“We’re fortunate here in Wisconsin to have many individuals involved in a variety of safety and health programs,” said Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural safety specialist at UW-Madison.

Some recent agricultural safety and health trainings have included:

  • Manure gas safety, monitoring, and management
  • Managing safety, health, and decision-making impacts associated with farm stress
  • Caring for farm families—the health professionals’ role in farm safety and health
  • Youth tractor and machinery safety certification

“There is so much to do if we want to make future progress to make farms safer and more healthful places to work,” said John Shutske, Director of the UW Center for Agricultural Safety and Health and agricultural engineering specialist. “These efforts require all who provide services, technical information and products to farmers to work together to make a difference.”

John Shutske

Five things that can make a difference still this fall season when agricultural work is at its peak:

  • Learn about important safety and health issues that Wisconsin farmers and farm workers face. Resources include the Wisconsin Agricultural Health and Safety website and the national “eXtension” Ag Safety and Health resource center
  • Slow down and watch carefully on roadways for slow moving farm machines and implements of husbandry. If you are moving farm equipment on the roadways, make sure all lighting and marking are up to current state law requirements and are clearly visible and functional. Current requirements can be found at
  • Spend a few dollars to invest in the appropriate array of personal protective equipment (PPE) including safety glasses, hearing protection and gloves. The right safety gear is important to every size of farm as well as people with small parcels of land and homeowners doing routine yard work.
  • Make sure all workers are fully qualified and provided with constantly updated training and demonstration to do the job safely. Even experienced workers need adequate supervision and oversight. Since youth are at especially high risk for farm injury, know the laws and regulations for younger workers and check out these guidelines for children and teens working on farms
  • To get more involved or to organize your community to address these issues – there are several places where you might start. Check with your local Cooperative Extension office and/or visit your local clinic, hospital or other healthcare center and learn about the community outreach events that they offer.

As Shutske reminds those attending educational events, “Partnerships are key – credible agriculture experts working with local health professionals and other farmers who are leaders in the community are a powerful and much-needed combination.”

A safety official discusses a grain bin rescue during National Farm Safety and Health Week.