How to Stay Safe in Agriculture

Awareness of safety best practices helps save lives and prevent accidents.
How to Stay Safe in Agriculture
Farming can be a dangerous profession. According to the National Safety Council, the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector topped the death rates chart in 2015 with 22.6 fatalities per 100,000 workers. In addition to this alarming mortality rate, farmers routinely encounter scores of potential health hazards, such as overexposure to sun and heat as well as injuries resulting from heavy lifting and operating farm machinery.

These statistics point to the critical need for all agriculture-related organizations to have a plan in place to educate employees about safety and emergency procedures.

Committed to Safety

Syngenta sets an example in this area through programs aimed at protecting its employees and the workers who use its products. “Safety for us starts at home with our employees,” says Scott Birchfield, a senior regional health, safety and environment manager at Syngenta.

Awareness of #ag safety best practices helps prevent accidents and save lives. @SyngentaUS

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Many of the company’s safety programs reach all of its employees, including training focused on hazard awareness and protocols for contacting emergency support. In addition, the company tailors other safety programs for job-specific risks. For example, field sales representatives, who often interact with growers on farms, receive extensive safety training on operating farm machinery and handling crop protection products properly. Syngenta also provides them with training on such risks as heat stress and sun exposure.

No matter where they work, Syngenta employees can participate in programs that promote their long-term health. “We’ve integrated health and well-being programs to help employees improve and maintain their health—on the job and in their personal lives,” Birchfield says.

Helping Customers Stay Safe

Syngenta also works to help agricultural resellers and growers improve safety in the field. The company’s agronomic service representatives, for example, often provide product demonstrations and discuss label instructions, safe application and the use of proper personal protective equipment.

“We ensure that safe use of our products is an integral part of all product discussions with customers,” Birchfield says. “Anyone with a concern or question about the safe use of our products can reach out to their local Syngenta sales representative or access our 24/7 emergency-support system.”

An additional way the company helps growers stay safe is by supporting, sponsoring and funding a number of farm-safety programs.

“We partner with CropLife America, the Pesticide Safety Education Program, FFA, the American Agronomic Stewardship Alliance, the National Agronomic Environmental Health and Safety School, and the Pesticide Stewardship Alliance, to name a few,” Birchfield says. “We also engage with local rescue and response organizations through training and funding to increase their ability to better serve their communities.”

Keeping Rural America Healthy

Besides Syngenta, farmers can turn to others in their local communities for support and advice when it comes to their safety. Nurses serving rural areas have long realized their role in this area. That realization led to the formation of the AgriSafe Network, a growing group of trained agricultural health and safety professionals who have been providing preventative services for farm families and the agricultural community since 2003.

Natalie Roy, the organization’s executive director, explains that farms—many without a medical professional or human resources manager on staff—need resources to care for their families and employees.

AgriSafe Network, one of the first organizations to use online training for rural health professionals, is now providing safety and health training to farmers, agricultural cooperatives and farm organizations, such as local farm bureau groups. “We can customize training for their needs,” Roy says.

The network focuses on occupational health risks, such as skin cancer or heat stroke, and offers a free online health-risk assessment, based on data growers enter about their operation. For instance, a producer with a hog-confinement operation can learn more about related respiratory issues. The organization can also connect farmers and organizations with specialists in ergonomics, worker protection standards and more.

For additional support, farmers and other agribusiness professionals can subscribe to AgriSafe Network’s webinars, which are available online, live or on demand. Some insurance companies offer incentives to policyholders and their employees who complete these safety-training sessions, Roy says.

“Anyone with a concern or question about the safe use of our products can reach out to their local Syngenta sales representative or access our 24/7 emergency-support system.”

Scott Birchfield

Neil Mylet, a Camden, Indiana, farmer who also serves as chairman of the AgriSafe Network, owns a grain operation with 10 employees. “The subject matter of the safety-training programs is really important,” he says.

For instance, Mylet learned about the importance of using protection devices to help prevent hearing loss while working with loud machinery. He’s also learned safety protocols to reduce the potential for slips and falls. For a few hours every month, he reviews AgriSafe training information with his employees and discusses his operation’s safety protocols. “We can pick and choose what aspects need reinforcement,” he says of the on-demand webinars.

The training also serves as a constant reminder to put health and safety first, he says. “In the grain business, we’re often hurrying to beat bad weather, but it only takes a few more minutes to do things right.”

Birchfield agrees: “Taking steps to keep employees and business partners safe and healthy is core to our business model, and we recognize it’s the most important investment we can make as a company.”

To learn more about safety and health programs and practices in agriculture, visit these websites: