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Guest Opinions

Dangerous Acres

Written by Gregor Goertz

How fortunate we are to benefit from the hard work and dedication of America’s farmers, ranchers and farm workers. Sept. 18-24 is National Farm Safety and Health Week.  As we reflect on the agricultural abundance we enjoy in Wyoming and this nation, let’s acknowledge the risk inherent in this occupation. As these hard working men and women are creating this agricultural abundance, they must be ever-vigilant for their own safety.

From their toil on farms and ranches we have a cornucopia of healthy food and plants to sustain us and make our lives enjoyable and a wealth of materials for clothing and manufactured products.   Every day our lives are touched and enriched by the fruits of their labors.  

Wyoming’s farm-ranch workers and agriculture families are among the most productive in the world.  An amazing bounty is produced on the idyllic family farms we picture in our minds.  But while living and working on a farm or ranch might seem like an entirely wholesome and stress free existence, there are few jobs in America that are more dangerous.  
We often think of dangerous jobs as being firefighters, police officers and miners.  But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, agriculture faces an extremely high fatality rate of nearly four for every 10,000 farmers and ranchers.  Only fishermen, loggers and aircraft pilots have occupational fatality rates higher.    

Dangers built into agricultural work include harsh weather, difficult environmental conditions, operation of heavy machinery and equipment and working with dangerous materials and chemicals.  Tractor roll-overs and ATV accidents continue to be responsible for a great number of adult and adolescent farm fatalities on our nation’s farms and ranches.  Accidents happen in any field but in agriculture, accidents frequently can be fatal.

I recall several cases of near misses and two cases of accidental deaths in my neighborhood.  My father stood on a bucket trying to open a window in the barn during a hot summer day, when the bucket slipped and his arm went through the window.  He severely cut his wrist and was rushed to the emergency room.  After several stitches he was back at work.   In another incident one of our neighbors caught his loose baggy shorts in an auger PTO shaft while unloading grain.  Luckily his clothing was old and ragged so it tore loose only leaving him with only a few bruises.  

Other members of the community were less fortunate and did not survive their accidents. It is so easy to become complacent in daily farm work that safety basics can be overlooked.  Farm safety has to be constantly reinforced.  We ask for producers to be safe and observant of hazards during this busy harvest season.
Please join with me during this Farm Safety and Health Week to express our appreciation and gratitude to our farmers, ranchers and agriculture workers for their phenomenal contribution to our very well being.  At the USDA Farm Service Agency, we are taking this opportunity to raise the awareness of farm safety to help them stay safe, healthy, and on the job.  After all, it is the very practice of farm safety that sustains the health of our nation’s farm and ranch families.  

By Gregor Goertz, USDA Farm Service Agency Wyoming State Executive Director