May 21, 2024

Rural Issues: Don’t snooze on farm safety

And so, the holiday season has begun. I hope you all enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. I hope you had the opportunity to take some time to relax and reenergize your mind and body. I hope you allowed yourself some time to rest.

We all know that farming can be both physically and mentally demanding. We also know how both physically and mentally exhausting farming can be.

We know the value of a good night’s sleep, but it takes more than that to prevent fatigue, which is different from sleepiness.

The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center says that fatigued workers cost an estimated $18 billion a year and farmers are at increased risk from the effects of fatigue because they work with machinery and animals, which require them to be 100% alert at all times.

It is especially important during those times of the year when physical and mental demands are higher, perhaps even off the charts, that those of us in production agriculture pay attention to our own mind and body and of those around us.

UMASH recently published a farm safety checklist focused on farmer fatigue that is a good reminder to help keep us from checking out.

The list includes eight potential hazards and how to avoid and address them. My translation of those hazards:

• Make rest, recovery and sleep a priority. Staying well-rested is essential for safe work performance.

• Know the symptoms of fatigue. They can include dizziness, drowsiness, apathy, headache, vision impairments, poor concentration, changes in mood and slow reflexes.

• Manage your stress. Try taking regular short walks, talking with a friend and practicing mindfulness. High stress levels can contribute to fatigue.

• Eat right. Stay hydrated.

• If you are relying on caffeine to get through your day, you could very well be suffering from fatigue.

• Get a regular physical exam. Fatigue could be a symptom of several different medical conditions including depression, anemia, or even a side effect of a medication you are taking.

• If you have employees, you should have a safety plan. That safety plan should include a plan that addresses fatigue management. It might include working in pairs or “work maximums.”

• Communication is key. Establish reliable and regular communications on your farm. Working alone and fatigue are risky enough on their own, but put them together and the risk increases.

For some crop farmers, a return to a more regular schedule following harvest allows a return to a healthier biological or circadian rhythm. The same can be said for livestock producers during calving season.

We all have an internal clock that controls wakefulness and sleep, body temperature, hormone secretion and more. Our bodies maintain a biological rhythm that is both maintained and disrupted by light exposure, eating habits and other environmental cues.

The holiday season can be stressful. Give your mind and body a break and try to focus on the gifts in your life that cost nothing to give or receive. Spend time with those you care about.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.