According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is one of country’s most dangerous industries: killing hundreds yearly and severely injuring thousands more. However, agriculture is no longer classified as the nation’s most hazardous industry, implying that perhaps efforts to improve safety in the fields are working. Still, good work is never done; there is always room for improvement.
Over the years agriculture has continued evolving from a traditional bucolic ideal to a massive thriving industry, but with change comes adjustment. These days human error can have greater consequences, and although occupational health and safety has improved, farmworkers remain one of the at-risk populations for injury and illness on the job. Increased awareness has been instrumental to farmworkers receiving training on farm machinery and proper attire to prevent or reduce hazards. Critically, federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration have boosted healthful practices by imposing stronger protections for farmworkers.
Agricultural workers generally receive on-the-job training, but work through all kinds of unpredictable weather and varied tasks. A farmworker’s duties may range from farm, crop, and livestock maintenance to operating heavy machinery: extremely labor-intensive work, paying famously low wages. The hazards faced are many:
- Lack of drinking water
- Lack of toilet facilities
- Chronic injuries from lifting, stooping, and cutting for hours
- Acute injuries from machinery, sharp tools, and ladders
- Pesticide exposure
- Extreme weather conditions
Our big agriculture comes at a great cost, especially for the worker with much at stake. Seeing a doctor or taking time off for illness means lost wages from a day’s work, and the common lack of insurance translates to neglected care or exorbitant fees. No one should have to choose between their health and the food on their table, yet this is the reality for many of America’s agricultural workers. Enduring unsafe workplace environments, nagging aches and pains, and minor scrapes and bruises that evolve into life-threatening issues is the everyday for many farmworkers – all to keeping agriculture afloat and put an abundance of fruits and vegetables at our disposal.
Despite the strides made in recent years to improve farm culture and agricultural safety, there is still much more that needs to happen before it is a safe place for all. AFOP Health & Safety is doing its part to provide as much occupational health and safety training as possible to farmworkers throughout the country. However, more can be done, and the choice is with the consumer; we must all ask more questions about not only the ethical treatment of the animals, but about that of the workers as well. We, the consumers, possess more power than we know through our dollars. If we stand in solidarity with safe and healthy practices for our farmworkers, we too can create change.