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Farms of America depend on safety

Published on September 23, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on October 21, 2011 7:38AM


For the Capital Press

How fortunate we are to benefit from the hard work and dedication of America's farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers.

Sept. 18-24 is National Farm Safety and Health Week. As we reflect on the agricultural abundance we enjoy in Oregon and this nation, let's acknowledge the risk inherent in this occupation. As these hard-working men and women are creating this agricultural abundance, they must be ever-vigilant for their own safety.

From their toil on farms and ranches we have a cornucopia of healthy food and plants to sustain us and make our lives enjoyable and a wealth of materials for clothing and manufactured products. Every day our lives are touched and enriched by the fruits of their labors.

Oregon's farmworkers and farm families are among the most productive in the world. An amazing bounty is produced on the idyllic family farms we picture in our minds. But while living and working on a farm or ranch might seem like an entirely wholesome and stress-free existence, there are few jobs in America that are more dangerous.

We often think of dangerous jobs as being for firefighters, police officers, or maybe miners. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, agriculture faces an extremely high fatality rate of nearly 4 for every 10,000 farmers and ranchers.

Only fishermen, loggers and aircraft pilots have occupational fatality rates higher.

Dangers built into agricultural work include harsh weather, difficult environmental conditions, operation of heavy machinery and equipment and working with dangerous materials and chemicals. Tractor roll-overs and ATV accidents continue to be responsible for a great number of adult and adolescent farm fatalities on our nation's farms and ranches.

Accidents happen in any field but in agriculture, accidents frequently can be fatal.

I fondly look back on my childhood on the farm and cherish the hours spent riding on the tractor with my grandfather and uncle. I still marvel at how quickly my grandfather could sew those grain sacks without jabbing himself with that big, sharp needle. But I also remember the fear I felt when my uncle caught his shirt sleeve in the tractor's spinning "power take-off" shaft. He could easily have lost an arm.

My uncle was lucky that day, but others have not been. It is so easy to become complacent in daily farm work that safety basics can be overlooked. Farm safety has to be constantly reinforced.

Please join with me during this Farm Safety and Health Week to express our appreciation and gratitude to our farmers, ranchers and farmworkers for their phenomenal contribution to our well being.

At the USDA Farm Service Agency, we are taking this opportunity to raise the awareness of farm safety to help them stay safe, healthy and on the job.

After all, it is the practice of farm safety that sustains the health of our nation's farm and ranch families.

Lynn Voigt is the state executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Oregon. To learn more about the Farm Service Agency, visit www.fsa.usda.gov


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