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Cultivating Safety: Practical Tips to Protect Farmers’ Health and Well-Being

Cattle farmer
National Farm and Health Safety Week highlights the importance of safety practices in agricultural settings to prevent injuries and health issues among farmers.

Published on September 29, 2023

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Three Things to Know

  • While rewarding, the agriculture industry also can be dangerous if safety precautions are not taken.
  • Farmers should practice safe lifting techniques, wear sunscreen and stay hydrated to avoid musculoskeletal injuries, skin cancer and dehydration, respectively.
  • Prioritize mental and heart health by seeking support for mental well-being and incorporating stress-relief activities, regular physical activity and nutritious snacks into your routine.

Every year since 1944, the third week in September has been designated as National Farm and Health Safety Week. The focus of this week is to highlight the importance of safety practices in agricultural settings to prevent injuries and health issues among farmers.

With Phelps Health serving a rural community, including many farmers and ranchers, this topic is especially relevant. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the following information and safety tips, courtesy of Phelps Health Family Nurse Practitioner Abby Blanc.

What are health risks that farmers often face and practical ways to minimize these risks?

  • Farm machinery accidents: Did you know? The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the agriculture industry is consistently at the highest risk for occupational injuries and fatalities, with 453 deaths in 2021 alone. For this reason, take the time to carefully read your equipment's user manual and safety instructions to avoid accidents. Also, perform regular maintenance checks on all equipment.
  • Musculoskeletal injuries from repetitive tasks: Knowing how to properly lift and move things, and knowing how much weight you're lifting, can prevent these types of injuries. When performing any task, ask yourself, "Can I do this by myself safely?"
  • Skin cancer: Be sure to wear sunscreen year-round and reapply it often. Have a standing appointment every 6 months to 1 year to have your skin checked by your doctor, primary care provider (PCP) or dermatologist. Learn more.
  • Pesticide exposure: Farmers should wear protective clothing, including long sleeves. (This clothing should be breathable, especially during the warm weather months.) Use the proper equipment whenever spreading pesticides, follow the guidelines based on the particular pesticide that you're using, wash your hands and finally, change your clothes after exposure.
  • Exhaustion: Farming is a demanding profession, and it often seems there are not enough hours in the day (or enough help) to get everything done. Make sure you get adequate rest, which is easier said than done for most farmers. Create a consistent sleep schedule by making sure you get up around the same time every day and
    Abby Blanc, FNP-C
    Abby Blanc, FNP-C
    that you average at least 6 to 7 hours of sleep each night. Also, practice good sleep hygiene. When winding down for the evening, stay off of your phone and avoid the temptation to watch TV before bed. Steer away from caffeine in the evenings and abstain from drinking alcohol before bedtime.
  • Mental health: If farmers are not in a good mental state, they won’t be able to adequately take care of themselves, let alone run a successful farm. The stresses of agricultural work can take a toll on mental health, so seeking support from your PCP or behavioral health provider is important. I personally have a special interest in anxiety and depression, and helping people to become a better version of themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Noise exposure: Wear earmuffs, earplugs, headphones, etc. while operating noisy equipment. Even when operating a lawn mower, you should wear sound-canceling devices. Doing so may prevent you from needing hearing aids down the road.
  • Dehydration: Take a good amount of water with you every day. Make sure water is available to you at all times, and drink before you feel thirsty. Avoid beverages like soda and alcohol, as these drinks can dehydrate you. Consider bringing along a cooling neck wrap to help you get through a hot day.
  • Zoonotic diseases: Zoonotic diseases are infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Unfortunately, zoonotic diseases are increasingly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists estimate that more than six out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals. Common examples include West Nile virus, Lyme disease and rabies. For these reasons, farmers should be aware of these risks and practice good hygiene whenever working with animals. Learn more about protecting yourself and your family.
  • Tick-borne illnesses: Because farmers often work with animals and are out in the fields, they’re more likely to encounter ticks. Protect yourself by wearing long pants, tall boots and long-sleeved shirts. Use insect repellents and conduct regular tick checks. Every night, take your clothes off and check your entire body. If you do find a tick, make sure to remove it immediately (including the head). Concerned about the alpha-gal allergy, which is spread by ticks? Learn more.
  • Environmental allergies: If you have environmental or seasonal allergies, don’t forget to take over-the-counter allergy medication. If you know what allergens trigger you and can avoid them, great. However, that can be difficult for farmers. So, if you have to be outside among known allergens, wear a mask to reduce your exposure. For natural assistance, local honey also can provide relief. Ask your PCP for more information. (Please note the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages giving honey to kids under the age of 1 year, because it can cause botulism, a rare and life-threatening condition that attacks the body’s nervous system.)
  • Cardiovascular concerns: Stress can negatively impact your cardiovascular (heart) health. Find a stress-relieving activity you enjoy and carve out time to do it. While it may not be realistic to work it in every day, try planning this activity once a week or even once a month, where you can decompress. Also, don’t neglect physical activity, outside of farm work. While farming is undoubtedly physical, your body needs regular physical activity that it’s not accustomed to, beyond moving cows and pulling hay. I know it’s hard to find the time, especially during a busy harvest season. But, if you can carve out a 10- to 20-minute daily workout, your heart will thank you in the long run. Proper nutrition also affects your overall health. Resist the urge to fill up on carbs, as they’ll make you tired. When you’re out in the field, bring healthy snacks along, especially those that offer a good source of protein. Discover five tips to improve your heart health.

No One Can Take Your Place

In the best of circumstances, farming should be a rewarding – and safe – occupation. If you have questions or concerns about your physical or mental health, please contact your PCP today.

Found in: Allergy Cardiovascular Dietary Exercise Family Medicine Health Health Muscles Musculoskeletal Safety Skin Skin Cancer Skin Conditions Sleep Stress Sunspots