Partnering with Ag and Rural Communities to Promote Safety & Health
The Agricultural Safety and Health Program is led by John Shutske, professor in Biological Systems Engineering in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS). If you are here to learn about tractor and machinery certification, that program is now led by the Division of Extension.
On this site, you will find support on a variety of information on current agricultural health and farm safety issues. This includes research and educational information on farm injury, occupational health, stress, human factors, and other content organized around the issues unique to production agriculture.
You will find information about the latest projects on primary workplace safety and health concerns that impact farmers, family members (including children), and hired farmworkers. Check back often as this website is being developed here in fall 2022.
Recent Farm Safety and Health Articles & Stories
Agriculture has seen advances in autonomous robots and other machines that will impact future production practices, business management, and safety practices. Developments like artificial intelligence now enable fully autonomous machines like full-sized tractors to till fields, machines that control weeds, and robots that milk cows and feed calves. These machines depend on sensor-based information and have prompted important questions for the ag sector regarding safety protocols, risk management, implications for rural communities, and changes in the agricultural workforce.
Combine fires are preventable and predictable. Harvester fires (combines, forage harvesters, cotton pickers, and other machines) often start as a result of accumulated debris like crop residue, leaked oil, or other material. Fires also require an ignition source. Often, this is heat from the engine through an exhaust component like a manifold or turbocharger. Other heat sources include electrical malfunctions that can cause arcing or heated components or worn bearings and other parts. Learn about prevention and the correct selection and use of extinguishers in this article.
Summertime can be a big challenge for farmers and their employees as they work through long days with high temperatures and humidity levels. We usually begin to hear about heat stress in the later weeks of May or early June through shortly after Labor Day. Heat-related illness can develop quickly and can then rapidly progress into deadly stages. Because heat stress (that includes heat exhaustion and/or heatstroke) affects our thinking and mental processes, sometimes we do not recognize or feel the negative impacts.
Current state requirements for farm tractor and machinery (IoH) marking and lighting are simply not enough. Contrary to current nationally-recognized ASABE engineering safety standards, WI does not require turn indicators and other important features. Data on WI farm work-related deaths include a number of highway fatalities. Federal regulations cover post mid-2017 machines, but Wisconsin's baseline requirements for most pre-2017 are quite different.
In 2020, there were 481 fatal farm injuries and over 110,000 injuries in the U.S. The “rate” of fatal injuries was 20.5 per 100,000 workers. Of the more than 80 million U.S. annual passengers who flew on commercial airlines each year in recent years, nobody has died because of an "accident." If airplane passengers died at the same rate as farmers and hired workers, we would see over 16,000 fatalities a year. Can you imagine the outcry? In agriculture, we can and should do better.
Fall harvest can be busy and dangerous. The best way to prevent tragedies is to invest prep time to get equipment ready for the coming season. Adjustments required improve safety often also help maximize the quality and value of your crop. Think of your role in the same way an airplane pilot or race car driver would. That means you need to establish a comparable pre-flight or NASCAR-style pre-race checklist — a run-through and shakedown to make sure all systems are “go.” Consult your operators’ manuals.
Projects, Activities, and Partnerships
FarmWell Wisconsin builds connections in rural communities. Includes partnership creation to connect existing community resources, and efforts to engage health providers on farm stress, health, and mental health of farmers, farmworkers, and their families.
The WI Certification Program meets US Department of Labor requirements for employment of youth on farms ages 14-15. Learn about the latest program offerings the Extension and local partners including vo-ag programs and technical colleges.
Extension resource center for farmers, families, and businesses on resilience, stress, and financial and other business planning tools and education to create a road-map for a successful and sustainable farm financial future.
AgrAbility of Wisconsin promotes success in agriculture for farmers and their families living with a farm injury, disability, or limitation. AgrAbility of Wisconsin is a partnership between the UW-Madison and Easter Seals Wisconsin.
Resource and information collection from the Farm Management topic hub of UW-Madison’s Division of Extension. This includes topics on employee safety, health, and developing a safety culture.
NFMS is in Marshfield, Wisconsin and has been a partner of this program since 1991. The Marshfield Clinic Research Institute is also the host of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, another key partner.