Q: Why is farm safety an issue important to you?
A: As one of Iowa’s U.S. Senators, I represent farm families and workers whose livelihoods are earned on more than 86,000 farms in my home state. As a lifelong family farmer, our three-generation farming operation has had its share of close calls through decades of raising livestock and growing crops. The daily workload and potential for farm-related injuries weigh heavily on the minds of Iowa farm families 365 days a year. At the policymaking tables in Washington, I lean in with a loud voice and sharp elbows whenever necessary to represent the views and concerns of families in Rural America. Some people might think it’s simple to dig a hole and wait for the seed corn to come up. I’m glad to educate those who don’t have dirt underneath their fingernails when making public policy that impacts the livelihoods and way of life for farm families. Innovation and mechanization has transformed the way farmers raise, grow and market their products. Countless high-tech, scientific and engineering advances are helping to improve yields, strengthen conservation practices for soil health and water quality, as well as produce an abundance of high-quality meats, grains and renewable energy to feed and fuel the world. Although the size, design and functionality of farming equipment, grain bins and livestock barns have changed through the years, the risk of injury and hazards for farmers and farm workers still require around-the-clock vigilance. Farming ranks among the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. economy. From safe handling of chemicals to precautions when unloading grain and managing manure pits, farmers are exposed to a lifetime of risk that impacts their quality of life and longevity, from pulmonary health to hearing loss and mental wellness.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two million workers were employed in production agriculture in 2018 across the United States. In 2017, 416 people died from a work-related injury on a U.S. farm, for a fatality rate of nearly 21 deaths per 100,000 workers. As America’s producers of food, fuel and fiber, safety matters. Taking shortcuts to fit all the chores into the work day can make a life or death difference. Raising awareness about the importance of disaster response and preparedness can help farm families, neighbors and first responders prevent injuries and save lives in our rural communities.
Q: What farm safety resources are available for farmers?
A: In 1990, Congress created a national program within NIOSH that established 11 agricultural research centers to prevent occupational injury among farm workers and their families. The Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health (GPCAH), located in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa, serves a nine-state region in the Midwest. Its mission encompasses a full bucket of issues to prevent farm-related injury and illness through education, research and intervention programs. The five-year economic downturn from low commodity prices and natural disasters has increased concerns regarding behavioral health. The emotional toll on farmers is mixed in with the daily grind operating machinery, tending livestock and handling chemicals that affect physical health. In January, GPCAH released a new study of Midwestern farmers. One-third of the respondents shared health concerns from farm-related work, including respiratory health, hearing loss, depression and acute illnesses. The center has resources for farm families to learn more about tractor-related injuries, skin cancer, suicide prevention and emergency preparedness planning, among many other topics. My staff has attended grain bin rescue demonstrations presented by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety at Northeast Iowa Community College and at Central Valley Ag that underscore the importance of farm safety, education and preparedness. The tragedy of grain engulfment and entrapment is a preventable risk that can be mitigated by following safety protocols. Before the busy spring season gets into full swing, the 11 Agricultural Safety and Health Centers recognize the first week of March as Agricultural Safety Awareness Program (ASAP) Week. This year features mental health, transportation safety, weather disasters, confined spaces, and farmer wellness. I encourage Iowa farm families to take advantage of ASAP week and take stock of their emergency preparedness plans, first aid kits and safety protocols on their farms. Just as importantly, with the growing concern about suicide rates and depression among farmers, don’t hesitate to be nosy and neighborly. Ask how things are going and pay attention to the answer. I’ve introduced the bipartisan Seeding Rural Resilience Act that builds on the FARMERS FIRST Act I co-sponsored with Sen. Joni Ernst and was enacted in the 2018 farm bill. My legislation would implement a voluntary program to train local USDA employees to help identify farmers in stress before it’s too late. As the longest serving farmer-lawmaker in the U.S. Senate, I’m proud to champion Rural America and advocate for our nation’s farm families.