Ask someone who grew up harvesting dinner from their backyard, or someone dedicated to organic subsistence farming; farm work is small business.
Ask someone with 100+ acres of grains, or anyone within the industrial agriculture supply chain; they will think BIG.
The difference between a 1-acre farm and a 200-acre farm is more than how far you have to walk. Each has a unique production goal, and a unique set of resources to achieve it. The most important of these resources is the farmworker. Not so long ago, human hands cared for every inch of the field. While technological boom has cut that need in many other industries, only to a certain extent is it feasible in agriculture. When it comes down to it most farms – big and small – still need all the hands they can get.
Safe and satisfied workers are the most valuable force behind agriculture. We know that, and the goal of AFOP Health & Safety’s training is to equip farmworkers with knowledge that fits their daily reality. Across different sizes of farms, that reality can change dramatically.
A production-scale farm completely free of pesticides is almost unheard of. Still, smaller farms will naturally use a smaller amount of these dangerous toxins, and with a tighter communication system they are better able to keep every worker informed about pesticide applications. Workers here are better shielded from the ill-effects of pesticide exposure than large farm workers. Agriculture on a massive scale involves more pesticides and many more workers to keep informed – on top of riskier application methods (think aerial spraying!). Especially for those on large farms, training in pesticide exposure is a must.
Cultivating crops on an enormous scale is possible thanks to heavy-duty machinery. It saves time and sweat of countless workers, but operating metal monsters like tractors and balers is risky and requires special knowledge. With an abundance of operator-driven equipment, it’s natural that rollovers and machine-related injuries often happen on large farms. More modest farms count on a lot of the same equipment, but less of it, and often smaller simpler machines. That certainly lowers the chances of a related injury, but can raise another issue. In smaller agriculture, one person is more likely to be responsible for operating several machines instead of being an expert on just one. You may have a driver’s license, but how far would that get you behind the wheel of a speedboat? Specific safety knowledge is critical to anyone using heavy machinery, no matter the size of the workplace.
Thankfully, time saved with machines can mean less time workers are exposed to the elements. Eight or more hours outdoors, day after day, can take a serious toll on your body: especially in intense heat. Does the size of the farm affect the worker’s danger of heat stress? On a small farm heat stress may be less of a factor for several reasons. Often there is less broiling hot machinery to contend with, workers are more likely to know each other and be alert to a friend’s symptoms, and shorter crop rows means easier chances to mark breaks. Just the reverse in massive fields; we can expect more machinery, less shade, longer rows, and workers less aware of their neighbors. It’s easy to imagine how the risk of heat stress on a large farm can be greater, and how important it is for any worker to be savvy to the symptoms. Like OSHA tells us, “water, rest, shade” is for everyone; look out for yourself and your friends, especially on large farms where it’s easy to get lost in the expanse.
In a perfect world, workers in fields large and small would be trained and diligent in farm safety. However, accidents happen, and while we work on getting the right training out to everyone it’s worth noting the differences that mark different kinds of farm. Washington to Florida, mountain to plain, small to large, each farm counts on unique advantages and disadvantages. Acknowledging these differences is essential to our goal of truly serving the daily needs of each farmworker.