Ag column: No matter what the investment, one size fits all

September 23, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

As agriculture continues to rank as one of the most dangerous occupations in North America and across the globe, the National Safety Council will put the spotlight on farming, ranching and the related health and safety issues.

In 2007, there were 715 deaths and 80,000 disabling injuries attributed to agriculture. This year Sept. 21 to 27 is recognized as National Farm Safety and Health Week.

The theme for 2008 is "Farm Safely -- Protect Your Investment." This theme highlights the value of the safety and wellness of the agricultural producer and the importance of protecting hearing, lung function, vision, skin and the musculo-skeletal system.

To protect oneself, here is a tip from Iowa State Extension, "The busy buzz of harvest is not too far away. It comes from working around loud tractors, combines, augers and grain drying equipment. Exposure to these harvest noises hour after hour can lead to a measurable hearing loss unless you protect your ears.


If you have to shout to be heard by someone three feet away, you need hearing protection. You should use only approved hearing protection. Spend the time now and find the personal hearing protection that works for you before the busy buzz of harvest."

Another important area of emphasis is preventive maintenance. This practice has been recommended for farm equipment for decades. Keeping machines properly lubricated and changing the oil on a regular basis can reduce engine wear and control vibration, both of which should extend the life of the machine and make for safer and healthier operators. Some farmers follow through on preventive maintenance religiously, others do not and may leave guarding and shielding off the equipment following their maintenance chores.

Preventive maintenance is just as important for smaller machines, like lawn mowers and chain saws. Although the investment in these smaller machines is significantly less, they are still pieces of equipment that will respond well to consistent preventive maintenance.

Lawn mowers should be maintained in the same condition as when they were new. This means that all grass deflectors are in place and functioning for their intended purposes. Mowers with missing deflector shields are often the culprit when flying debris hits a bystander, or is projected into a building or car window.

Chain saws are known to produce extremely high noise levels and maintaining their muffler systems in original condition will go a long way to reducing the operator's exposure to occupational hearing loss.

So, no matter its size and investment cost in the machine, keep it well-maintained to reduce your exposure from a costly injury or property damage incident. This is true whether your spread is 1,000 acres or one-quarter acre, safety is one size fits all.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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