- Agriculture is among the most hazardous industries in the United States.
- In 2011 approximately 5.5% of all agricultural workers experienced a work-related illness or injury.
- Respiratory illnesses, noise-induced hearing loss, dermal conditions, sun damage and chemicals exposures are all potential risks.
- The National Agriculture Safety Database (NASD) provides excellent information on agricultural health and safety issues.
- There are industry-specific safety standards for agriculture (29 CFR 1928). Regulations provide oversight on roll-over protective structures, agricultural equipment safety and general environmental controls.
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Agriculture is among the most hazardous industries in the United States. Crop production and animal husbandry expose farm workers and their families to a wide range of hazards. Potential dangers include respiratory illnesses, noise-induced hearing loss, dermal conditions, sun damage and hazardous chemical exposures. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 5.5% of all agricultural workers experienced a work-related illness or injury in 2011.
Hazards associated with agriculture
There are many hazards associated with agricultural work. The work involves a considerable amount of manual lifting and repetitive movements, sometimes resulting in musculoskeletal disorders, chronic back pain or repetitive strains. A significant number of fatalities and injuries also occur as a result of machinery-related accidents. Machinery can also cause noise-induced hearing loss in workers who are regularly exposed to noise exceeding Time Weighted Average (TWA) threshold limits (see our Noise and Hearing Conservation Pathfinder). Respiratory illnesses such as occupational asthma, bronchitis and Farmers’ lung are common as a result of airborne contaminants such as fungi spores, chemicals emitted from silos or manure pits, and organic or inorganic dusts. Chemical and pesticide exposures present a risk to farm workers if preventative measures such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are not being used.
For all of these issues in agricultural health and safety, there are excellent fact-sheets and publications accessible from the National Agriculture Safety Database on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. There, you can discover tools and techniques for minimizing hazards in the farm setting.
There are industry-specific safety standards for agriculture (29 CFR 1928). Regulations provide oversight on roll-over protective structures, agricultural equipment safety and general environmental controls. Employers can view these resources by visiting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website.
Employers and farm operatives must also comply with relevant General Industry standards (29 CFR 1910).
OSHA Safety and Health Topic: Agricultural Operations
U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration www.osha.gov
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Agriculture – NIOSH Topic Page
Agriculture Pages. US Environmental Protection Agency
Business Owner Briefing
OSHA Factsheet. Farm Safety
Medical Director Review
Research and Dissemination Needs for Ergonomics in Agriculture (Estill et al., 2002)