People are often surprised to learn that farming is one of the most dangerous professions, perhaps imagining sedate country estates and idyllic rural scenes.
The truth is that farming is unsafe for a series of very good, well-known reasons, which is why many accidents at work occur on the farm.
Here are the top eighteen problems farm workers face, in an approximate order from least to most dangerous.
18. The Noise
Noise may not only deafen, it may also mask other dangers that might be nearby. Industrial deafness is a major work-related illness in its own right, though, and the cause of many a work accident claim.
17. Dams And Reservoirs
Dams and reservoirs aren’t necessarily features of every farm, but they’re relatively common. Needless to say, these structures pose a significant risk of drowning and floods.
16. Electric Fences And Electric Equipment
Electric fences will be well known to the land owner, but that doesn’t help if a farm worker has helpfully turned one on when it should be off, or if a new farm worker wanders directly into the fence. Electric equipment on farms may be exposed to the elements and animals for longer, leading to malfunctions and exposed high voltage wires.
15. Hand Tools Are Sharp And Pointy
Hand tools are dangerous, and they can fall from high places as well as cause damage with slips and trips. Nudge the wrong thing in a barn and you could find a rain of shears and shovels falling on you from above. In that way, farming can be a lot like construction – only hardly anyone actually wears hard hats.
14. Long Hours
Farmers are notorious for getting up before the crack of dawn to tend to their livestock. Farmers and farm workers can often get sucked into unhealthy lifestyles, working from before dawn until after dusk and ending up with an extremely warped work to life balance. Hundred-hour weeks are not unheard of. Not only can this cause mental health issues, it also increases the likelihood of physical accidents as a tired, distracted and careless farm worker carries on interacting with huge, dangerous machines.
Farmers have to work such long hours, because there are often environmental factors which cannot be ignored and have to be mitigated or prepared for at short notice (for example, floods or storms).
Stress is a huge problem for farmers and farm workers, as failing to do a task could result in the complete devastation of a crop.
Profits are low and vulnerable, while events outside the farmer’s control can do immense damage to crops and livestock, especially disease.
Stress causes or contributes to several serious heart conditions, and can seriously harm quality of life on its own.
The isolated nature of the work being carried out also means there’s no-one to blame when things go wrong – which contributes heavily to stress levels, and brings us neatly to our next point.
12. Working Alone
Working alone isn’t just a mental health risk on a farm, or a missed opportunity to synergise your teamwork (or whatever management jargon is popular this week!).
Working alone means that when an accident happens, you might be responsible for saving yourself. This entails calling the emergency services, treating your own wounds while you wait, and most importantly avoiding passing out before you can accomplish these tasks.
Falling unconscious in an office might be quite embarrassing, falling unconscious on a construction site might be dangerous, but in both cases you’ll find that someone comes to your aid pretty quickly. Falling unconscious while out farming could result in death from a combination of exposure and bleeding out in the hot sun.
11. Distance From Hospitals And Healthcare
Farms have to be located in the countryside, of course, while hospitals and other healthcare buildings have to be located near population centres.
This means that even if you are found quickly, you’re not likely to get to a hospital on time, meaning that minor accidents become serious, and serious accidents could result in death.
10. Exposure To The Elements
Constant exposure to the elements means that for a farmer, long-term and chronic illnesses become more common, while short-term problems can be made much worse.
Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke are all serious risks in summer, while hypothermia can be a serious risk in winter.
Exposure to the elements can be even more serious because the distance from the farm to places where you can remedy the effects of exposure are so great. If you’ve run out of food, water or fuel sources exposure isn’t necessarily something that’s cured just by realising in time and getting back to the safety of the farmhouse.
9. Animal To Human Diseases
Animal to human diseases are extremely common, accounting for 61% of pathogens. These diseases can have unpredictable effects on humans, who are often not the intended host, which means they can be fatal even when they’re not fatal to animals.
Some of the animal to human diseases which have achieved significant attention in recent years include swine flu, bird flu, foot and mouth disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and rabies, but there are many more.
As well as contracting diseases from livestock, there is the risk of catching diseases from creatures attracted to livestock and to livestock food – rats, foxes and other agricultural pests.
Farmers using modern techniques and health and safety procedures may be relatively safe compared to farmers who live in close quarters with their animals and take fewer precautionary measures, but they’re still at higher risk than other members of the population.
8. Toxic Chemicals
Use of toxic chemicals is often considered essential in modern industrialised farming, as without them non-genetically-modified crops stand little chance against the very latest diseases and funguses ranged against them.
These often result in long-term work-related illnesses, as well as posing threats if, for instance, you get trapped in an enclosed area.
7. Holes And Silos
Holes and silos are dangerous. If you fall into a full silo you might find yourself drowning in whatever it happens to contain – grain and animal feed is not easy to stay on top of, and panicking will only make the situation worse.
Of course, the main risk is the drop. Holes and silos are a significant risk to inexperienced farm workers who fail to take precautions as well as experienced farm workers who have an extremely unlucky slip or trip, and are responsible for many farm injuries and farm accidents.
6. Confined Spaces
It seems unfair that farmers should be at risk from confined spaces as well as exposure to the elements, but once they’re inside they’re at great risk of suffocating in poorly ventilated areas.
These areas also exacerbate the dangers caused by toxic chemicals, dust and smoke, and disease.
5. Unpredictable Panicky Livestock
There have been deaths caused by aggressive and violent sheep and rams as much as any other livestock. When you have hard surfaces and heavy animals all around, there isn’t much you can do to minimise risk.
Obviously, there are some animals that are riskier to work with. Pigs are enormous and can do serious damage with a bite, horses can kill and maim by kicking and throwing their riders, and bulls are just enormous animals with vicious horns.
A panicking animal is just not easy to deal with, and if they are of any size at all they can easily cause serious damage to an unprepared or smaller adult.
4. Dust And Smoke
Dust and smoke causes gradual damage to the lungs, potentially manifesting as bronchitis on a long time scale.
The evidence that grain dust causes chronic lung health problems is now mounting up, and both dust and smoke from a variety of sources add to the risk of suffocation in enclosed spaces on farms.
3. Farming Is Industrial Scale
The sheer scale of modern farming makes ordinary objects seriously dangerous. Even something as mundane and tiny as animal feed becomes deadly when it is present in large quantities, as has been shown by some of the tragic deaths over the years as farm workers have been crushed by animal feed or drowned in grain, or worse.
2. Machines Are Everywhere
Even if you get away from the more obvious hazards – the combine harvester, the tractor, the shotgun – there are incredibly dangerous machines all around. Giant mixers that turn on at any moment, closing lids, automatically self-sealing machines, even if you’re only slightly connected to farming you can’t get away from the machines.
1. Farm Vehicles
As with many industries, the largest threat is fairly mundane – vehicles.
Vehicles are dangerous because they are fast and hard to control, especially after a twenty hour shift on four hours sleep carrying a heavy load around a confusing and noisy work environment.
Whether it’s a forklift driver overturning their vehicle, colliding with another vehicle or human, a 4×4 tipping in a remote field, a crushing accident while trying to hitch a trailer, or a simple loading and unloading accident, vehicles are hugely risky no matter where they are but they’re ubiquitous and farming and thus form an enormous threat.
Farming vehicles are also frequently unusually large, unusually complicated, and used for a much longer period of time than other types of vehicle.
The Most Dangerous Profession
The real reason that farming is the most dangerous profession is the combination of all these factors. Plenty of professions contain one or two of these features, but without all of them acting in concert they are not nearly so dangerous.
Put all these factors together and it’s easy to see why farmers and farm workers deserve our respect for their bravery and resilience in facing these working conditions every day!