Parents encouraged to teach children safety

Safety key to health of ranchers, farmers

Sherman Romney knows the inconvenience of getting hurt.

The Craig farmer, who raises 60 pigs, broke his leg last year after slipping on ice while feeding his animals. Romney's mishap laid him up for about a month and he relied on the help of a friend to keep the farm going.

The accident was a mistake, Romney said, that could have been avoided if he had been paying more attention.

"I do think about being safe more often," he said. "I certainly realized that I can get hurt. I was rushing around that day. I probably should have slowed down and done my chores more carefully."

According to officials from AgrAbility, a program aimed at keeping agriculture workers safe on the job, many accidents can be avoided by using a couple of key techniques. And those techniques will be part of a Dec. 4 conference geared to show agricultural workers new and safer methods for doing farm and ranch work.

"It's like a quality of life issue that can benefit anyone," said Michelle Zorack, project coordinator for Colorado's AgrAbility. "I think it's so ingrained in the culture to work hard that there's little emphasis placed on safety. I think agriculture people are not always open to safety issues."

Using ergonomic tools and taking breaks are one way agriculture workers can stay safe, AgrAbility officials said.

But, after many years of working long, back-breaking hours, the repetitive motions can be stressful on the body. A recent study indicates the average age of farmers and ranchers is increasing. Lately, that age was charted at 54.

According to the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, agriculture-related injuries account for 182,500 accidents a year. Additionally, 288,000 agriculture workers nationwide between the ages of 15 and 79 have a disability that affects their ability to perform one or more essential tasks on a farm or ranch.

Unfortunately many of the work habits of farmers and ranchers have been ingrained since youth.

Each year more than 100 children are killed and more than 33,000 are seriously injured on farms and ranches in the U.S., said a study by the North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks.

"In agriculture there are no (regulations) and children are often assigned farm jobs based on parents' past practices, a need for 'extra hands' to get the job done," the group said. "Unintentional injury can occur when adults and children mistake physical size and age for ability and underestimate levels of risk and hazard."

Parents who learn how to work safely on farms and ranches get a head start in teaching children the same techniques, Zorack said.

"There can be a joint problems for kids if they're not doing things ergonomically when they're young," she said. "On a farm sometimes people just assume kids can do more than they're able to do."

On Romney's pig farm the most challenging duty is lifting the 100-pound bags of feed which is tough on his back, he said.

More than once he's been known to show up to his day job with his fingers in bandages from farm work.

Though Romney admitted he should probably do more of the work with the assistance of augers and other equipment, for the most part he said he enjoyed the exercise.

"I think I stay healthier because I'm outside in the fresh air," he said.

He does recommend agriculture workers invest in some quality equipment to make the job easier.

"If you're too low a budget, you're constantly trying to keep the animals in and there's more possibilities for injuries," he said. "I'm getting to the point where my setup is more user friendly."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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