The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 report indicates that the agricultural sector is still the most dangerous employment in America, with 574 fatalities, or an equivalent of 23.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, annually.

Fall harvest time is one of the busiest and most dangerous seasons of the year. For this reason, every year, the third week of September is recognized as National Farm Safety and Health Week.

This annual promotion, initiated by the National Safety Council, has been proclaimed as such by every U.S. President since Franklin D. Roosevelt. National Farm Safety and Health Week is led by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, the agricultural partner of the National Safety Council. “Every Farmer Counts” is the theme for this year’s National Farm Safety & Health Week celebration.

The are many layers to peel back when we think of safety and health on a farm. Each day, workers in the agricultural sector encounter too many dangerous environments to list, all while the mind is multitasking on the current physical activity, planning for what will occur next, and thinking about ongoing farm tasks and the needs of the family.

For many, there has never been a year like 2020. In some respects, it has moved at a slower pace with the six-month closure of school activities and restrictions in business and church.

On the other hand, 2020 has presented stress of unemployment and continued uncertainty of when COVID-19 infection risks will subside. For production farms of all commodities, price and product demand uncertainty provided a sinking feeling throughout most of the last six months, which only added to stress on mental health in this year of separation.

This National Farm Safety and Health Week really takes on new meaning. So often we dwell on tractor rollover and power take off driven attachment accidents as the farmer’s worst fear, but general health and safety awareness is the attitude we all need to adopt to reduce risk in what we encounter.

I often think the statistics mentioned in the first paragraph would be lower if farms were required to continuously use hard hats, safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, and boots, and to enforce the minimum of no work one day each week, but that is not the nature of the business. It really requires the adoption of using precaution in every activity.

The theme “Every Farmer Counts” specifically addresses mental health of farmers and families as the year progresses. As stated, 2020 has been ugly from the standpoint of price uncertainty and demand for products, specifically market-ready animals and milk as the processors slowed to a crawl when COVID-19 was causing delays earlier this summer in processing facilities across the country, leaving growers without payment for market-ready product.

The financial losses from these factors beyond the farmer’s control may take years to overcome if processing and demand remain steady.

For others, it might mean the closure of their farm business. These stresses compound overtime, and help show why it is important to recognize that every person counts and is important to their families and communities.

Like any family business, there is much pride in continuing opportunity for the next generation. Ultimately, though, it is only a job, and if the time comes to close and seek employment somewhere else, the sun will still rise.

I certainly have no intention to discount the importance of safe machinery operation and would expect only safe operation to be the choice. I do hope you recognize the multiple layers of mental and physical risk farmers, families, and employees encounter as they go about their day.

It is so sad that nationally and locally there has been an increase in suicide-related emergency calls this year due to everything going on, but thankfully people did call seeking help. Fortunately, there is a number to call to speak with professionals before an emergency call is needed.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. They provide 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress. Take time to stop and evaluate yourself and identify physical or emotional change in people close to you. Use this free resource if needed. Every person counts!

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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