As in years past, the National Farm Safety and Health Week coincides with the start of the fall harvest season, when safety concerns and community awareness need to be on full alert.
Statistically, farming is one of the most dangerous professions. So much so that the National Safety Council initiated the annual Farm Safety and Health Week in 1944, and every U.S President has proclaimed the week every year since then.
"This is an area that we need to give attention to, not just one week of the year, but throughout the year," said Bob Byrnes, regional director for the University of Minnesota Extention. "We're coming on to such a busy time. Nationally, this week coincides with the start of harvest."
In observance of the 2010 National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 19-25, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) offers tips and advice in hopes of avoiding tragedy this fall. The MDA suggests farmers make themselves easy to be seen by using their lights and flashers, use slow moving vehicle emblems on all equipment traveling less than 30 miles per hour and to consider using a follow vehicle when moving large equipment on the roadways, especially at night.
"When harvest does occur, farmers tend to put in long hours," Byrnes said. "They have equipment on the roads and they also leave mud on the roadways. There is a higher risk of accidents, injuries and, unfortunately, some tragedies resulting in death."
The MDA asks that rural drivers sharing the roads with farmers to be on the look out for farm equipment, slow down when encountering slow moving vehicles, wait for a safe place to pass and to avoid using a cell phone while driving.
"This week really brings to focus a number of things," Byrnes said. "It's not just awareness for people working on farms, it's for people driving on roads. We encourage slower traffic around farm machinery and grain trucks on the road."
As farmers battle time and weather, their stress levels can rise, too, and the 2010 harvest season could add to that burden.
"We're certainly set up for a challenging harvest season," Byrnes said. "The amount of rainfall and moisture we have could make it a difficult harvest with the wet soil. Complicating things this year is that there is the potential for a very good yield, which could lead to a higher stress level for farm operators when harvest does occur."
While combines, tractors and grain trucks will be scattered across the Minnesota landscape this fall, one of the smallest, more recent additions to farm vehicles received the most attention during National Farm Safety and Health Week. This year's theme is ATVs: Work Smart, Ride Safe.
The all-terrain vehicle rapidly gained popularity since its three-wheel design was first sold in the 1970s. In the mid-80s, the demand for ATVs exploded with the invention of the four-wheel model. But with the increase in use, more and more injuries and deaths were reported.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that more than 800 deaths and 135,000 injuries occur each year, and about one-third of those are to children under 16 years old.
"Nationally, ATVs are the focus this year," Byrnes said. "The reason for it is that a growing number of farms have utility vehicles. The focus is on safety of those vehicles, especially making sure children are properly trained. Twenty or 30 years ago, we didn't have them on the farms."
The CPSC reported 201 ATV-related deaths in Minnesota between 1982-2005. Between 2006-08, 47 deaths were reported. Since 1998, the number of injuries reported from ATV use has nearly doubled.
"We've come a long ways in farm safety and equipment," Byrnes said. "It's much safer than in years past. But any injury or fatality is one too many."
For information on ATV safety, refer to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which regulates ATV use. Also, Katherine Waters, an agricultural health and safety educator with the University of Minnesota Extention, recommends the following safety measures when it comes to ATV use:
Be aware of your surroundings
Wear a helmet
Be familiar with the manufacturer's safety precautions
Don't allow passengers
* Take an ATV training course
Make sure your ATV is equipped with headlights and tail lamps
ATVs are designed for off- highway use
Display red, reflective warning devices on the front and rear of an ATV when operating near public roadways