- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Agriculture is among the most hazardous industries in the United States. Many farmworkers fear contamination from agricultural chemicals and pesticides, but injuries from chemical exposure make up only 2 percent of the total. Ninety-eight percent of injuries are related to other factors, such as back injury from lifting heavy loads or repetitive stooped posture, hearing loss from loud equipment, respiratory disorders from dust, arthritis from repetitive motion, and lacerations, strains and sprains from falls or encounters with livestock.
Employers are responsible for identifying and controlling workplace hazards and for providing worker safety training. However, farmworkers sometimes cut corners to work more quickly, especially when working at piece rate when pay depends on speed.
But speed increases risk of lost-time injury or an injury that can stop income altogether.
It's important to use all safety equipment provided by the employer, even though it may make the job slower or more uncomfortable. For example, safety goggles, seat belts, protective clothing and ear plugs significantly reduce injuries.
Climbing down a ladder to reposition it during harvest takes time, but leaning too far off the ladder to reduce the number of times it needs to be moved increases the risk of falling. When harvesting orchards, many picking bags are equipped with a bottom dump, which takes a few seconds to unclip and empty. To gain speed, some farmworkers just flip the bag over, subjecting their bodies to an awkward twisting movement that can cause back, shoulder, arm or other injuries. In other harvest processes, workers might try to save time by running to the bin where fruits or vegetables must be dumped. However, carrying a load already makes the worker unstable. The furrows are frequently muddy, uneven and filled with slippery culls. Running greatly increases the likelihood of falls.
By being aware of injury risks, reporting hazards, using safety equipment and practicing safe procedures, farmworkers are more likely to stay on the job, rather than find themselves in need of extended time off to recover.