Farm safety is a 52-week responsibility

by | Sep 20, 2017

For 74 years, the third week of September has been recognized as National Farm Safety and Health Week. But farm safety is a year-round responsibility.

Agriculture provides food, fiber and fuel for millions of people across the United States. But like many careers, farming does have its share of risks. Farmers work with machinery, chemicals and animals. Accidents can happen. It’s important that farmers and others who work in agriculture understand the inherent risks and take precautions.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, fatal injuries in farming, fishing and forestry occupations increased 10 percent in 2015 to 284 fatalities — the highest level reported for that occupational group in seven years. Fatalities among agricultural workers rose to 180, an increase of 22 percent from the 148 cases reported in 2014.

The NCDA&CS works with the N.C. Agromedicine Institute, the N.C. AgrAbility Partnership, Cooperative Extension and the state Labor Department to promote on-farm health and safety.

One of NCDA&CS’s important programs is enforcement of the Worker Protection Standard for agricultural pesticides. New revisions to federal rules to protect agricultural workers from pesticide exposure went into effect earlier this year. Since then, inspectors with our Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division have been working to assist farmers, producers and businesses with meeting the new requirements. The changes are the first major revisions of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection Standard since 1992.

The new revisions also require all pesticide handlers — employees who mix, load, apply or otherwise assist with pesticide applications — and early-entry workers — employees who are trained and protected and enter a treated site before the re-entry interval has expired — to be at least 18 years old.

Another significant change has been new respirator requirements, which now include medical evaluations and annual fit testing. Applicators who wear the respirator must receive training on proper use of the respirator and maintain training records for two years.

These regulations are designed to protect people who use certain types of pesticides or come in contact with crops or other plants treated with these pesticides. The rule requires employers to take steps to protect employees, themselves and family members. They have to provide information about exposure to pesticides, ways to protect against exposure, and how to decontaminate if there is over-exposure.

The department also does education and outreach to make sure farmers are keeping their workers and themselves safe. For example, since 2013 the Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division has trained more than 1,000 farmers in the safe use of soil fumigants. In 2017 alone, the division has trained well over 3,000 growers and applicators in the safe use of new herbicide technologies

Each year pesticide inspectors conduct nearly 400 Worker Protection Standard inspections throughout the state, more than half of which are on farms.

The state also has a Pesticide Environmental Trust Fund that supports online training for health-care providers, the N.C. Farmworker Health Program, pesticide container recycling and pesticide disposal assistance programs, and other efforts to promote safety. The trust fund is supported by fees paid by companies that register pesticide products in North Carolina.

For more information on farm safety visit