Farming is a very rewarding way of life for many; however, it is a lifestyle that unfortunately has many risks associated with it. Those risks can come from physical dangers in every area of the farm to psychological dangers as well. There are many hazards to those of all ages associated with farming, and unfortunately farming families grow so used to their daily routines that some of these hazards are often overlooked. Fatalities and injuries occur with farm machinery and equipment, animals, storage structures such as manure pits and silos, logging accidents, and more. It is important not only for farmers and their families to stay informed of the potential dangers around the farm, but also for those that spend any amount of time visiting farming operations, as accidents can happen in a matter of seconds.
From 2015 to 2019, 137 farm-related fatalities were reported in Pennsylvania alone. In 2020, 39 farm and agricultural fatalities were reported, an increase in fatalities compared to previous one-year summaries. Ten of the cases (25.6%) belong to youth and children 19 years and younger. This is slightly higher than the 2015 to 2019 average of 21.5% of victims being 19 or younger. As is typically the case, the majority of victims were male. A complete list of reported incidents and breakdowns can be found in the Pennsylvania Farm Fatal Injury Summary located at https://extension.psu.edu/2020-pennsylvania-farm-fatal-injury-summary.
When it comes to machinery on farms, staying vigilant and familiar with the equipment being used is essential. All members of the family should be trained in equipment safety, PTO safety, starting and stopping machinery, and how to stay out of blind spots. When small children are on the farm, learning equipment safety could mean life or death. Of the 137 PA fatalities between 2015 to 2019, in those 5 years old and under 92% were results from exposure to farm equipment, tools, and hazards while not engaged in farm work. Vehicles were again a leading source of fatalities in 2020, accounting for 14 of the 39 fatalities. Only three of the vehicle fatalities occurred with highway vehicles, with tractors and ATV’s being especially hazardous.
Manure pits on farms are one of the most dangerous areas where extreme caution should be taken. Not only do they present drowning and entrapment situations, but the gasses at high enough levels can be dangerous to animals and humans. Gasses produced from decomposing manure include hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen sulfide is the most dangerous out of these gasses and can result in death after just one or two breaths at high levels. This gas can be detected by a distinctive rotten egg odor at very low levels. However, when manure in pits is agitated or being pumped, hydrogen sulfide can increase to dangerous levels where nerve cells inside the nose become paralyzed and those odors cannot be detected. In addition to following safety protocols around manure collection systems, there are gas detection meters that are available for use for those working around manure pits to help detect these dangerous gases. Gasses from fermenting feeds in upright silos are also very dangerous and anyone working around these structures must be very cautious to the hazards associated with them. Individuals can become unresponsive in a matter of seconds while working around both manure pits and upright silos, so extreme caution must be practiced, and farmers should never enter these structures without personal protective equipment and should always inform others of their whereabouts.
Unfortunately, another component to the summary included those farmers that have tragically taken their own lives. Suicides remain an unfortunate source of fatalities for farmers in Pennsylvania with 8 of the 39 reported fatalities being those from suicide. Farming comes with many stressors on a daily basis ranging from cropping decisions, weather conditions, feed and commodity prices, rising fuel and fertilizer expenses, varying milk prices, pressures from animal activists, satisfying consumer needs, staying in compliance with numerous regulations, maintaining a family balance, and so much more! It is easy to see why people can become stressed and very overwhelmed. Recognizing the signs of stress in your family members, coworkers, friends, or neighbors can be critical to preventing such tragic situations. There are numerous resources available to provide some guidance on how to handle difficult situations and especially being able to recognize symptoms of someone who may be struggling. Visit https://extension.psu.edu/farm-stress-and-wellness-resources to explore more information.
Dairy farming means so much more to farmers than the public realizes. Farmers take pride in their work, achieving good crop yields, raising healthy and productive animals, and providing safe and healthy products for human consumption. What many may not realize is the stress and dangers of managing and achieving those goals comes with a personal tole as well. If you are concerned about the mental health of anyone that you may know, please don’t hesitate to talk to them, offer assistance if you can, and to reach out to any of the resources that are available. There are numerous helplines available, please keep these numbers readily available so they can be a valuable resource in a time of need.
Agri Stress Helpline: 833-897-2474, available 24/7.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial 988 (effective July 2022) or 800-273-8255 or text GO to 741741 for those in need of emotional support day or night.
Rural Response Hotline: Call 800-464-0258 Monday to Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Free personal counseling and financial/legal services.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Call 800-662-4357.
Penn State Extension. Pennsylvania Farm Fatal Injury Summary. https://extension.psu.edu/2020-pennsylvania-farm-fatal-injury-summary
Penn State Extension. Farm Stress and Wellness Resources. https://extension.psu.edu/farm-stress-and-wellness-resources
–Cassie Yost, Penn State Extension