PRATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WETM) – Farmers across Upstate New York are facing more than just physical hazards, and it’s making agricultural safety advocates concerned.
September 18 was the start of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety’s National Farm Safety and Health Week. Between working long hours in the heat and cold and working around equipment and animals, farm workers face constant danger.
The CDC says that in 2020, 11,880 farm workers were injured and 368 died in agricultural incidents. In New York, 10 farmers died in work-related accidents, according to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health.
Julie Sorensen, Director of NYCAMH, said that equipment and animal accidents are the leading cause of death and injuries on New York farms. These don’t take into account respiratory and musculoskeletal problems that can develop over years of hard labor. And Sorensen pointed out that with their to-do lists already full, farmers often don’t want to add safety precautions to their duties. Besides, a farm will still likely function even without every piece at 100% security.
Her organization provides training, support services, research services, and helps with health treatment plans for farmers across the Northeast. More information about NYCAMH and its services is available here.
In Prattsburgh, N.Y., Damin Farms operates a 4,000-animal farm, focusing mainly on dairy. Isaac Clements, one of the family members at the farm, said that with so much to do, the operation is essentially non-stop. So keeping himself and his workers safe comes down to common sense and being aware of your surroundings.
“When you’re walking around cows, you’ve got to be calm, because if you’re anxious, the cows sense that, too,” Clements explained. “When you’re dealing with tractors and all that, stay off your phone. Obviously no texting and driving… When I run the tractor, make sure that you’re looking everywhere.”
Damin Farms also provides binders of protocols and safety procedures for all its workers.
Still, the risks to agricultural workers go far beyond the physical.
“One of the things that I and my colleagues are increasingly worried about is stress, and fatigue,” Sorensen noted. “Taking a vacation is something rare, if they ever do. And so there’s no ability for them to step outside of the workplace and just take a breath, right? Get some perspective, and to think about the things they struggle with from a new perspective.”
She said that at a recent presentation at NYCAMH, the speaker talked about how farmers have traditionally been expected to behave and that they’re often concerned about voicing their concerns about the problems and stress they face.
“A good farmer is somebody who just works all the time. And you know, they’re self-effacing, and humble and rarely take their own needs into account. But how sustainable is that for an individual? How much can they endure?”
So Sorensen and her colleagues are left wondering how to help farmers through this kind of mental wear and tear.
“What can be done to give farmers the freedom and permission to take care of themselves, too?” Sorensen said. “And that’s a very difficult question to answer.”
Meanwhile, Isaac Clements has added agriculture advocacy to his list of duties, with a Youtube channel—”Agaholics”—that intends to educate viewers with entertaining videos about agricultural processes.