In 2008, the Federal Center for Disease Control calculated the rate of non-fatal injuries and illnesses for the combined Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industries at 4.9 per 100 Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) while all other industries averaged 3.8 per 100 FTEs.  This higher rate is historically typical for these industry categories.  Work-related fatalities were also higher for this group. 

Agriculture is and will likely remain a hazardous business.  The constant involvement with heavy equipment, the long hours, and potential for exposure to toxic substances or dangerous situations can make agricultural employment a daily hazard.  Farm operators, managers and even employees need to have the necessary skills and tools available to prevent or address potential work injuries.  This article will focus on building readiness for addressing on-farm injuries, but it remains in the interest of everyone involved in agriculture to develop an on-farm safety culture as a first defense. 

Because accidental injuries and other health emergencies can occur at any time, every farm operation should be prepared with first-aid and emergency kits.  As a practical matter, first aid and emergency kits are different and there should be more than one type of kit available on the farm.  For example, the “First Aid” kit available in the home or office for everyday cuts and scrapes would be different from the “Emergency“ kit in the pickup or harvester operating out of reach, away from the farmstead during the work day.  Also, emergency kits will have different supplies than the first-aid kit used to supply small bandages for small cuts or to remove slivers. 

A typical emergency kit that is placed in a tractor or other equipment used away from the farmstead might include:

  • Cell phone (prepaid or employee’s personal)
  • A basic first-aid manual
  • 2 triangular bandages with 36" sides (made from bed sheets)
  • Antiseptic spray (not in pressurized can) to disinfect contaminated wounds
  • Sterile saline solution
  • Twelve adhesive bandages and four safety pins
  • Two pairs of rubber or latex gloves
  • Eye goggles
  • 3 small packages of sugar
  • Face shield for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • 12 large adhesive bandages for small cuts, puncture wounds, abrasions
  • 4 safety pins to anchor triangular bandages
  • 4 sterile compress bandages (2 X 2 inches) to dress wounds, control bleeding
  • 4 sterile compress bandages (4 X 4 inches) to dress wounds, control bleeding
  • Roll of tape (2-inch width) to anchor dressing
  • 6 pressure bandages (8 X 10 inches) to control bleeding, splint fracture
  • Scissors to cut clothing or bandages
  • 2 rolls of elastic wrap to anchor dressings (use care not to stretch too tightly)
  • 5 clean plastic bags (one garbage, 2 kitchen, 2 bread-sized) to transport amputated tissue

This kit includes materials for an amputation kit and to splint fractures as these are the common types of farm injuries.

In addition to the standard emergency and first-aid kits, additional components may be needed if pesticides or other hazardous chemicals are stored or in use.  Include the following items:

  • Emergency and/or poison control center telephone number
  • Syrup of Ipecac (use only if advised by doctor or Poison Center)
  • 2 one-quart containers of clean water
  • Tongue depressors (to stir with)
  • 2 small, plastic empty jars with tight-fitting lids
  • Can of evaporated milk (attach opener to can with rubber band)
  • Blanket (for treating shock)
  • Plastic bandages and tape (to cover contaminated areas)
  • Disposable rubber gloves and goggles

A kit housed in the farm shop may also contain components for treating burns or components for an eye wash station. 

Another important component of increasing a farm’s capacity for addressing injuries and health emergencies is a first-aid/CPR skillset.  Objectively, there is no reason that every farm operation should not have one or more persons with current training and certification for CPR and first aid.  But, when some general demographics and facts are considered, the need becomes clearer.  According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the average age of the principle farm operator in the U.S. is 57.1 years of age and the number of farm operators over the age of 75 has increased by 20% from the 2002 Census.   At the same time, the risk of heart attack in men increases significantly after the age of 45 ( Age 55 in women).  Together, these facts clearly place a large group of agricultural workers in the zone for increased risk of heart attack. 

While correlation does not always equal causation, it is easy to see that having first-aid and CPR skills available to farm operations can only have a beneficial effect in the long term.  Both first-aid and CPR classes are readily available through local Red Cross Chapters and other sources.  Scheduling or participation in first-aid and/or CPR training can be utilized as a team or morale-building activity for farm staff.  And at the same time, it can be used as a tool to signify the need for an increased culture of safety on the farm and the commitment of management to the safety of their employees.

Dean Ross is an agrosecurity and dairy farm management consultant based in Michigan. He can be contacted at: