The Ag Safety and Health Community of Practice and the Enhancing Educational Programming for Beginning Farm and Ranch Women are working together to provide a one-stop for resources about agricultural safety, health, and mechanization information specifically for women.
Based on the 2017 Census of Agriculture, women represent 36% of all American agricultural producers, which an increase of about 5% since the 2012 Census. Over the years, the woman’s role in agriculture continues to change as more women are involved in a broader aspect of farm and ranch responsibilities. Women are more likely to have livestock operations than traditional field crops. Farms and ranches operated by women typically involved less than 180 acres.
Production agriculture is a demanding and physical occupation but there are some specific risks for women in agriculture. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has outlined specific risk for women in agriculture including pregnancy-related risks, mental health, work-related injuries, and many more. The Ag Safety and Health eXtension Community of Practice has developed the article pages to provide more in-depth information related to specially to women in agriculture in the following topic areas:
Farming and ranching can be stressful occupations, and that stress can have a multifaceted effect on a person. There are numerous uncontrollable factors, such as unpredictable weather, untimely equipment breakdowns, time constraints, and financial markets, that cause stress in the lives of farm families. Stress is a physical response to perceived life-threatening events. In an evolutionary sense, it allows us to determine whether we should stop and fight or flee from an external threat. Our brains do not recognize the difference between psychological or physical threats, and therefore our bodies respond in the same fashion to something we perceive as negative, overwhelming, or threatening, irrespective of the real risk to physical well-being. Each person reacts differently to stress, but some common symptoms of chronic stress include changes in a person’s sleep patterns, fluctuation in a person’s weight, fatigue, restlessness, and physical health conditions such as headaches, ulcers, or high blood pressure. Besides the physical effects, stress can also hinder interpersonal relationships at work and home.
Chronic and uncontrolled stress can be detrimental to your health and interpersonal relationships. It might not be possible to get rid of the things causing stress in your life, but there are things you can do to help manage the stress. The following are some simple ways that a person can decrease stress:
Exercise: Many farmers feel that the physical labor that they do on the farm is enough, but having a regular exercise or stretching program provides a break in your daily routine, benefits your overall health, and provides a constructive way to relieve excess energy. Strive to exercise three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Caffeine: Reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet. By eliminating this stimulant, a person may have reduced headaches, increased relaxation, improved sleep, a calmer mood—and, counterintuitively, more energy.
Humor: The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” isn’t inaccurate—laughter might help to reduce your stress, so explore ways (social groups, books, and so on) to add some laughter to your life.
Talking: Having a strong network of friends and family can help provide necessary support during stressful times. Make sure that you have a couple of people to whom you can vent your problems to help reduce built up stress.
Relaxation Techniques: There are simple relaxation techniques that can help you clear your mind and reduce tension. Techniques include deep breathing and taking mini-breaks during the day.
Sleep: If you are not getting enough sleep at night to be refreshed in the morning and energetic enough for the day, then you may need to consider a midday power nap.
Nutrition: Make sure that you are eating balanced meals throughout the day.
Breaks: Take some time from the stressful situation by going for a walk, spending some time alone, working on a hobby, meditating, and so on.
There are times when things get too difficult, and you might need professional help. Professional help can include your family physician or health care provider, a mental health professional, or a support group. Listed below are some signs that indicate that you should seek professional help:
Changed sleeping patterns
Consideration of changes in your marital status
Inability to express positive feelings
Excessive alcohol intake
Feelings of guilt, isolation, panic, or being overwhelmed
For more detailed information, consult the following sources:
The following Worker Protection Standard (WPS) training videos were developed by the the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health – Rural Health Farm Worker Protection Safety Program with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. To complete the training requirements for handlers, handlers need to watch both the worker training video in addition to the handler training video. Videos are available in English and Spanish for various growers including greenhouse, vineyard, orchard, nursery, vegetables and mushrooms. The videos are EPA-approved (EPA Worker PST 00026) for use in 2018 and beyond.
A shovel is a tool used for digging and moving material (e.g., dirt, grain, etc.) from one place to another. Shoveling is a strenuous task that can place added stress on a person’s whole body but especially the spine. When using a shovel, a person is lifting and twisting their body which can place a person at risk for disc compressions and strain injuries. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 28,000 people received hospital treatment in 2009 for injuries (e.g., strains to back, shoulder, etc.) due to their use of unpowered garden tools (e.g., shovel, rake, etc.).
The standard shovel was not ergonomically designed but has evolved over the last century. Many shovels in use today by consumers were not chosen by them but given to them, inherited or that was the one available in the shed. However, shovels are not ‘one-size-fits-all’ tool especially for a female user. The following five things should be consider by a person when selecting a shovel:
Weight – Obviously the higher the weight of the shovel and the load, the more strain it will place on a person’s body. However, a person needs to match the weight of the shovel with the type of job that they are doing. For example, the same shovel may not be appropriate to shovel snow in the winter and sand in the summer. The material that the shaft is made of can also impact the weight of the shovel.
Type of Handle – Some shovels have long straight shafts while others have shorter shafts with D-shaped grips or handles. D-grips offer the benefit of allowing the user to keep her/his wrist in a neutral — unbent, untwisted — position. D-grips may also provide additional comfort and control, and oversized D-grips on some tools allow for two-handed digging.
Length – A person needs to consider the length of the handle when choosing a shovel. If the tool is too long for the person then it may be harder for them to use and place them at risk for an injury.
Blade size and shape – The shape and size of the shovel blade depends on the material that you are going to be moving. A larger blade is typically used with less dense material.
Angle – An angled shaft can reduce the strain on a person’s spine.
The following tips are designed to reduce strain on a person’s body when using a shovel:
Choose the right tool for your body size and strength
Examine the tool to look for any signs of defect or damage. If damaged, do not use it.
Do some stretches prior to starting the job to loosen your muscles and increase your blood flow to your muscles.
Wear gloves to protect your hands and improve grip and wear sturdy, closed-toed footwear with good arch support.
Before your first scoop, decide how and where you will move the material.
Examine your footing to make sure you have a solid place to put your feet and examine the area for obstacles (e.g., pipes, holes, etc.). Stand with your feet apart at a distance that is comfortable for you.
Shoveling is not a race so pace yourself to do the job well without putting additional strain on your back. Take breaks!
Keep your back straight and bend your knees slightly so that you can use your leg strength to move the load and have your elbows close to your body. When you lift, straighten your knees so you are lifting with your leg strength instead of your back.
If digging with the shovel, use the ball of your foot to put leverage on the shovel blade and use your leg muscles to push down on the blade.
Material should not be thrown over three feet and it is a better practice to walk closer to where you need to dump it rather than throwing it. When you are throwing material, turn your feet in the direction of where you are throwing it. Never throw a shovel load over your shoulder.
In general, the maximum weight to shovel at a high rate (15 scoops per minute) shovels is approximately 10 – 15 pounds which includes the weight of the shovel and the load. If a person is shoveling at a slower rate, the shovel and load combination weight could be up to 24 pounds. However, it is better to complete multiple load lifts at a lighter weight than to lift heavier loads less often.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture – Economic Research Service, the number of farms operated by women continues to grow. A snapshot of women-operated farms is typically small farms but often diversified. Some characteristics of principal women farm operators include older and more educated than their male counterparts but also rely more on off-farm work income. Women in agriculture have different challenges than their male counterparts but one area that is sometimes overlooked is tool selection.
The majority of tools were designed and manufactured for males. Therefore, they were designed for the height, strength and body type of a man. However, women have a difficult time using these tools because of their body and strength characteristics. Because women have 40-75% less upper-body and 5-30% less lower-body strength compared to men, tools for women need to be designed so they are able to utilize more of their lower-body strength.
Typically women are smaller in stature and have proportionally shorter legs and arms. For a woman to use a tool that is too long, it can require her to work harder, cause physical pain, and strain muscle because the tool is not the right size. Compare this to using a piece of equipment with an undersized tractor and the strain that it places on the tractor and places it at risk. Another physical difference for women is that they have wider hips and more narrow shoulders. Women typically have more adipose (loose connective tissue) than men. The grip of a tool can be one of the biggest issues because women tend to have smaller grips. However, most tools were designed for men so the grips are too big for some women’s hands which may cause the tool to slip, strain muscles in the female’s hand, and place women at risk of an injury.
Women continually use tools that are not the optimal tool for them to complete tasks. These non-optimal tools can place women at risk for an injury. In the past, women did not have options when it came to choosing a tool but times are changing and the market for tools that are specifically designed for women is making an impact. Research by McCoy, Carruth, and Reed (McCoy, et al) recommended that engineering research should be utilized when designing machinery or equipment for women farmers. Yoder, Adams and Brensinger (Yoder et al) conducted online surveys and focus groups with women concerning tools and found that there was a consensus in the following feedback: tools were too long or heavy, mechanized equipment was difficult and heavy to control, unbalanced hand tools, and poorly located or sized handles or grips. Engineers affiliated with Penn State University and, later, the University of Nebraska worked with Green Heron Tools on the research and design of a line of tools for women.
Green Heron Tools was founded by two women with backgrounds in public health, nursing, research & education who were also small-scale farmers. Recognizing the links among tools and equipment and health and safety, they successfully applied for a USDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to research the tool-related needs of women farmers. The company has since received three additional SBIR grants, including its current grant, focused on the design of equipment to assist with the lifting and carrying of heavy materials such as feed bags, hay bales and full buckets.
The 2016 i-Three Corp project between the Ag Safety and Health Community of Practice and Wearable Technology Learning Network worked with Green Heron Tools to look specifically at manure forks for women. Green Heron Tools developed a handle that is used on most of their tools that has been tested for ease of use. For the manure fork testing, the team used the Green Heron Tool handle but used different manure fork heads to test the design of the head portion of the tool. In the past, testing was completed using complex heart and breathing monitors to measure changes as a person used the prototype tool. The i-Three Corp project used wearable technology with a heart rate monitor linked to a mobile device to complete this round of testing. This configuration was easier for the testers to use and it was assumed that an increased heart rate during tool usage indicated it was more difficult to use the tool. A graduate student at the University of Missouri, Division of Food Systems and Bioengineering Department of Agricultural Systems Management Program is also testing the manure fork with women farmers and ranchers in Missouri.
The impact of this project was evidence-based tool development that is specifically designed and tested for women by women. Research data from this study will enable Green Heron Tools to complete the manure fork design and begin manufacturing.
Another project working with women, tools and ergonomics is the national Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: 21st Century Management: Enhancing Educational Programming for Beginning Farm and Ranch Women. The Farm Safety, Mechanization, and Ergonomics team led by Karen Funkenbusch is made up of women from agriculture safety and health professionals, extension specialists, rural health care providers, and farmers and ranchers. Her team is collaboratively working with eXtension’s Farm & Ranch eXtenision in Safety and Health (FReSH) to collect practical resources for improving farm safety, mechanization, and ergonomic for educators and beginning women farmer’s and rancher’s and storing them in one central location on the eXtension FReSH website atwww.extension.org/agsafety.
In 2000, the North Central Education/Extension Research Activity (NCERA) 197 committee was founded to develop strategies to implement the land-grant system’s research and extension capacity with the experience of agricultural producers to reduce work-related injuries, illness, and death. The NCERA-197 was reappointed in 2005 when its name changed from NCR 197 to NCERA 197.
This review provides background data to guide the development of a new national research and extension agenda for agricultural safety and health. Scholarly products consisting of peer reviewed journal articles, technical conference papers, and educational products published between 2004-2015 were identified and reviewed. A total of 1121 scholarly products were documented. An increasing trend was observed in the number of scholarly products published. Based on the number of the scholarly products reviewed, most products addressed the priority area of ‘Special Population and Enterprises’.
Like crops themselves, teaching agricultural safety has its seasons. Over a career, an instructor might see periods when awareness and support of agricultural safety programs are high and parents, producers, and employees want more programs in the school or in the workplace. Then there are times when the focus shifts to other topics, and it is easy for people to think that we have already “taken care of” agricultural safety. Until the next local incident shocks us back into awareness.
Unlike our human focus, the hazards themselves never take a break. The range of hazards in the agricultural workplace that result from daily exposure to powerful machines and chemicals, from the repetitive day in, day out activity, from the stress of second-guessing the crops, the weather, the pests… Agricultural workers must face these hazards every day.
Agricultural hazards take a heavy toll – agriculture remains one of the most dangerous occupations – yet, it rarely makes the front page. Instead of the dramatic incident in which dozens are killed or injured – incidents that make it into the newspapers and onto television, incidents that mobilize resources – agricultural losses are a steady drip, drip, drip – a tractor overturn here, a confined space injury there, an unfortunate encounter with a bull or horse… it adds up, and almost every farm family has these stories to tell.
Safety educators must work constantly to inform agricultural producers, their families, and their employees both when safety is “popular” and when it is not. In addition to this, at the high school and college level, we must work to prove the relevance of agricultural safety courses and raise the next crop of safety educators and safety advocates. Our hope is the materials in this book will motivate and facilitate the teaching of agricultural safety at the high school and college level and be the seeds of that crop. The hazards never take a break, and neither must we.
The Safety in Agriculture for Youth (SAY) Project National Steering Committee developed a belief statements document regarding youth working in agriculture. The belief statements outline consensus-based beliefs and principles that promote safety and health for youth working in agriculture. Click HERE to view the formal PDF version of the belief statements.
To date, the belief statement has been endorsed by the following organizations:
Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America (ASHCA)
American Association for Agricultural Education
American Farm Bureau Federation
Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)
Carle Center for Rural Health and Farm Safety
Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CSCASH)
College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, Utah State University
Farm Safety 4 Just Kids
Grain Handling Safety Coalition
Great Plains Center for Agricultural Safety and Health
High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety
National Council for Agricultural Education
National Council of Agricultural Employers
National FFA Organization
New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH)
North Carolina Agromedicine Institute
Northeast Center for Occupational Safety and Health (NEC)
Ohio State Agricultural Safety and Health
Penn State Agricultural Safety and Health Program
Progressive Agriculture Foundation
Purdue University Agricultural Safety and Health Program
Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention and Education
University of Illinois Extension Agricultural Safety Program
University of Missouri Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Program
Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH)
Creating and promoting a culture of safety among youth working in agriculture is a primary goal for all stakeholders.
All youth working in agriculture deserve protection from workplace hazards and risks that may be associated with agricultural worksites.
Youth developmental principles are the basis for determining if and when a youth should participate in agricultural work.
Supervision of youth performing jobs or tasks should be guided by professionally recognized best practices based on developmental stages of growth.
Research and evaluation should guide development of safety and health best practice recommendations and guidelines.
Evidenced-based, culturally appropriate models should be utilized to educate about agricultural safety and health.
Hired youth working on farms subject to Occupational Safety and Health Act enforcement should be informed of applicable rights to a safe workplace, training, personal protective equipment, and to ask questions or raise concerns about their safety.
Guiding Principles for Practice
Parents, employers, agricultural educators, healthcare providers, and safety and health professionals play critical roles in designing and implementing youth agricultural safety education and training that is comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, accessible, and effective.
College and university agricultural science and education teacher preparation programs should include agricultural safety and health education that meets Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) Career Cluster Content Standards and/or appropriate state standards.
Secondary school education and programs should include agricultural safety and health education that meets Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) Career Cluster Content Standards and/or appropriate state standards.
Cooperative Extension education and programs should include agricultural safety and health education that is evidenced-based and meets appropriate state standards. Extension educators should consider developing safety and health educational curricula that align with AFNR Career Cluster Content Standards.
Agricultural worksite hazard assessment programs should be in place, including regularly updated safety checklists, injury prevention programs, and regular review of health and safety best practices.
Education and training for parents, employers, and other supervisors of youth workers should include instruction about:
Existing age-based work laws/regulations
Physical and cognitive abilities of youth
Need for appropriate supervision and training
Basic emergency response practices, both general and specific to the workplace
Basic hazard and risk reduction techniques such as the safety hierarchy, Job Safety Analysis, injury and near-injury investigations, and lockout/tagout.
Youth workers should receive basic training in proper body mechanics due to musculoskeletal changes from physiologic growth and development, and to protect against cumulative effects of exposure to hazards.
Youth should be encouraged to request help and/or additional training when taking on a new, unfamiliar task or experiencing difficulty with any specific task.
Parents should and employers must provide opportunities for youth to receive safety and health training specific to any job or task they are assigned to, including but not limited to Job Instruction Training (JIT) and Tailgate Training techniques.
Parents with family farm youth workers should reference current safety and health regulations to better understand high risk activities and best safety practices.
Parents, employers, and other supervising adults are encouraged to help youth obtain safety training through nationally recognized educational curricula and supporting resources such as those listed in the SAY National Clearinghouse.
Parents, employers and other supervising adults should conduct a thorough assessment of weather, environmental, and equipment conditions prior to assigning work to youth.
Parents should and employers must provide youth with appropriate personal protective equipment and training in its use and care as required by state and federal regulations.
Hired youth work assignments must be in compliance with state and federal work safety regulations including but not limited to U.S. Department of Labor Hazardous Occupations Orders in Agriculture (Ag HOs); Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) General Industry 1910 and Agriculture 1928 Standards; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Worker Protection Standards (WPS) and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA).
SAY National Steering Committee
Jim Armbruster, Senior Relations Manager, National FFA Organization R. Kirby Barrick, Professor, University of Florida, American Association for Agricultural Education (AAAE) Christy Bartley, Extension Assistant Director of Programs: 4-H Youth Development, Penn State University Steve Brown, Educational Program Specialist, U.S. Department of Education Linda Fetzer, SAY Communications Coordinator, Penn State University William E. Field, Professor and Extension Safety Specialist, Purdue University Frank Gasperini, President/CEO, Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and Extension Safety Specialist, The Ohio State University Jill Kilanowski, Associate Dean, Mount Carmel College of Nursing, Columbus, Ohio Barbara Lee, Director, National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety Dennis Murphy, Professor Emeritus, Penn State University Michael Pate, Nationwide Associate Professor of Ag Safety and Health, Penn State University
Susan Reynolds-Porter, Chief Executive Officer, Progressive Agriculture Foundation Tony Small, Managing Director, The National Council for Agricultural Education Marty Tatman, Director, Program Development, American Farm Bureau Federation Larry Teverbaugh, Founder & CEO, CareerSafe Online Aaron Yoder, Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center, NIOSH Ag Centers
A new initiative provides one-stop shopping for agricultural educators who seek resources and training programs aimed toward youth.
The Safety in Agriculture for Youth (SAY) project homepage (http://extension.org/say) is an umbrella compilation that includes many different curricula, programs, projects, and activities that have a common purpose of increasing safety and health knowledge and reducing hazard and risk exposure to youth on farms and ranches.
For years, agricultural safety workers have been developing youth-oriented educational materials. Still, more than 2 million youth under the age of 20 are exposed to agriculture production related hazards in the United States, partly because these resources have not reached the hands of educators within the school systems and other agricultural youth educational settings such as 4-H .
All educational resources located on the SAY Clearinghouse are aligned to the 2015 Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (AFNR) standards. The Clearinghouse also includes a search engine feature for users to search for a curriculum or resource by a specific topic. Beyond the search engine, users can navigate through the clearinghouse by clicking on different AFNR standards on the right side of the webpage to see all of the educational products which align to a particular standard. Each educational resource has a page that provides a description, type of resource, language (English and/or Spanish), website link to resource, and alignment chart to AFNR standards.
The AFNR Standards provide agricultural educators (both formal and informal) with a high-quality, rigorous set of standards to guide what youth should know and be able to do after completing a program or educational event. The SAY Clearinghouse lists formal curriculum and other educational resources. Formal curricula are those products that have stated objectives, educational materials that support those objectives and an evaluation component. Other educational resources lack one of the three components listed above, but still have an alignment to AFNR.
“We want these resources to be dispersed to high school students who are receiving formal agriculture classes within their school system, and we realized that if the agriculture teachers are going to use these resources, the resources need to be tied to the standards that the teachers use in the classroom,” said Dave Hill, SAY project manager.
Safety in Agriculture for Youth is a grant project funded by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute for Food and Agriculture to develop a sustainable and accessible national clearinghouse for agricultural safety and health curriculum for youth.