The nature of much of today’s precision farm work requires a high degree of alertness and the ability to react quickly in certain circumstances. With extended hours of summer daylight, farmers often stretch themselves to get the maximum out of a day’s work.
Farm workers pushing their capabilities to the limits in order to increase production run the risk of serious injury due to fatigue, and fatigue is a major factor in causing farm-related injuries.
“Too many farmers push themselves, especially during the really busy times and long daylight hours,” says Blair Takahashi, farm safety specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Personal health and safety is a worker’s most valuable asset - nothing should come before.”
Fatigue is a mental or physical exhaustion that prevents a person from functioning normally and can often times impair safe work performance. In addition to feeling sleepy and tired, some common symptoms of fatigue include:
- headaches, dizziness, blurry vision
- slow reflexes and reactions
- poor concentration and judgement
- feeling irritable, moody and short tempered
- aching, weak muscles and impaired coordination
“We typically see safety as being all about equipment and guards,” says Takahashi. “However, the most important safety tool a person can have is their attitude and subsequent decisions. That could mean taking a 15 minute break and stretch to refocus, have a drink of water, and a quick bite to eat.”
It’s important for farmers to recognize things they can do to ward off fatigue:
- Get adequate sleep. This means parking your worries at the bedroom door and regularly getting a good night’s rest.
- Eat nourishing food to keep your mind and body sharp.
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water.
- Incorporate some healthy activity in your day’s work. If you find yourself doing one continuous job for hours on end be sure to stop periodically and go for a walk to stretch out your muscles.
- Plan for physical and mental demands. This may mean adding workers to your team to alleviate the demands of spring farm work, keeping a promise to yourself that you will take a well-deserved break after a set amount of time and not making critical decisions while you are weary.
“Whether you operate a family farm, employ workers or are helping neighbours, pre-planning will go a long way to preventing unforeseen injuries and costly repairs,” says Takahashi. “Although the human factor is a significant cause of farm-related hazards your safety is about the choices you make. It just takes a moment to make a decision that could literally be the difference between life and death.”
For more information on farm safety best practices, go to www.agriculture.alberta.ca/farmsafety.
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