Perhaps more than any other occupational group, agricultural workers are exposed to a tremendous variety of environmental hazards that are potentially harmful to their health and well-being. Farmers and farm workers suffer from increased rates of respiratory diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin disorders, certain cancers, chemical toxicity, and heat-related illnesses. There are precautions that can be taken to minimize or eliminate these potential hazards.
Noise from farm tools and machinery can cause permanent hearing loss. Hearing loss may be temporary at first, but repeated exposure will lead to permanent damage. The damage can occur gradually over a number of years and remain unnoticed until it is too late. Some noises, such as gunshots, are so loud they can cause immediate permanent damage.
The permissible noise exposure standard for an eight hour day is 90 dB(A). The exposure standard for peak noise - for example gunshot - is 140 dB.
Some early warning signs of hearing loss include:
Typical farm noises that can damage hearing include:
If you have to shout above noise to be heard by someone a meter away, your hearing could be at risk. If noise cannot be reduced or removed at its source, and if there is no other way to separate people from damaging noise exposure, protective hearing equipment must be worn. Some farmers employ a noise consultant to take noise readings, assess hearing risks and recommend preventive measures.
You can reduce noise at its source by:
You can protect people from loud noise exposure by:
Once hearing is gone, it is gone forever, and hearing aids are of little help. They can make speech louder, but they cannot make it clearer.
Heat stress occurs when the body builds up more heat than it can handle. High temperatures, high humidity, sunlight, and heavy workloads increase the likelihood of heat stress. Use fans, ventilation systems, and shade whenever possible. A work area sometimes can be shaded by a tarp or canopy. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after work, and consider wearing cooling vests, which are garments with ice or frozen gel inserts.
Allow time to adjust to the heat and workload. People who are used to working in the heat are less likely to suffer heat stress. To become adjusted, do about 2 hours of light work per day in the heat for several days in a row; then, gradually increase the work period and workload for the next several days. An adjustment period of at least 7 days is recommended. If the warm weather occurs gradually, workers may adjust naturally.
Good health has long been acknowledged as one of the most critical elements to quality of life. The health of farm workers is a vital resource to protect. Following recommended precautionary measures to protect your health can go a long way to enhancing your quality of life.
Stress is a person's reaction to something considered a challenge or a threat. It is the emotional strain and pressure exerted on mental and physical being by oneself and others. When under stress, the body begins to "gear up" for action. This makes a person stronger and more alert, but it also takes more energy.
When "geared up" under stress, the body begins to do more of some things and less of others. Blood circulation increases, but digestion slows down or even stops. This could lead to major health problems, such as heart disease and ulcers. Other less severe but serious health problems include sleeplessness, headaches, and poor digestion.
Under stress, most people become so wrapped up in their own problems that they forget about everyone else. At the same time, they begin to take out their feelings on family members and friends. Stress quickly becomes a problem for the entire family--not just for the individual.
For a short time, stress may make someone a better, more efficient worker. But over the long haul, a person will wear down, becoming physically weaker and tiring more easily. A lack of concentration may result in poor management decisions. This can be especially dangerous when operating machinery.
Stress will have a snowball effect. All the problems it causes with personal health, family, and work will become new troubles. Without learning how to control it, stress can become an endless cycle.
Fight stress by taking care of yourself. Here are some tips from the American Heart Association:
Exceeding personal limitations is a factor in many farm accidents. Working in extreme heat or cold or attempting jobs beyond your physical capabilities elevates accident or illness risk.
Be ready for a safe day. This includes dressing right for the weather and job, getting the proper nourishment and adequate rest. Take work breaks to fight fatigue and extend your energy. Stop when you've had enough.
If it will be a struggle to lift or carry something, get help. Be sure you have the necessary competence (strength, skill and staying power) required by the job or activity to do it well and safely. Find the least taxing way to do things. Use motor power rather than muscle power when possible. Plan your work to make maximum use of your available energy.
Consider age and state of health in deciding what and how much you can do safely. Be willing to reassign jobs and activities that can no longer be done safely because of age or health problems. Exercise regularly for improved cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, and to stay agile.