Accident prevention: how to ensure safety in farming?
Just like in several other professions, accident prevention safety is fundamental for farmers. Although the legislation makes several requirements, many rural properties fail to comply with the rules.
Take Brazil for example. During an inspection in just one sugar and alcohol mill, carried out in June 2018, 2,604 workers were found in an irregular situation. In addition, the Ministry of Labour had to issue 112 notices of infraction in that case.
If we expand this scenario to other farming sectors and to the country as a whole, we can get an idea of the size of the problem. The good news is that you can change this situation on your property and prevent accidents from happening. In addition, you will improve your farming and achieve several benefits that can be converted into financial advantages.
For you to better understand this context, we have put together this post with the main information about safety related to accident prevention. Would you like to know more? Then, keep going!
How to guarantee workers’ safety?
Rural accidents at work are a great concern in the agricultural sector. Regarding deaths in grain silos alone, the total was 24 in 2017; by July 2018 there had already been 13 fatal accidents.
After all, what is the concept of a rural work accident? It is any unexpected event that happens while the individual is on duty. On the other hand, occupational illness — which is also included in employee safety — is derived from the activity performed due to exposure to aggressive agents.
You can avoid both cases. When that’s not the case, the result is high costs related to medical treatment, production losses, money compensation, damage to machinery, delays, among others. That being said, it is essential to know the risks associated with the profession.
What are the main risks?
They generate functional disturbance or body injury, either permanent or temporary. In some cases, they lead to death or disability to perform a given role. Check out, in the next topics, what are the main risks.
Pesticides and fertilizers are essential for good crop production, but they require the use of Individual Protection Equipment (IPE) to avoid damage to the mouth, nose, eyes, and skin.
This is due to excessive exposure to the sun, which leads to syncope, cramps, and even skin cancer. Therefore, employees must keep themselves hydrated and protected against the sun’s rays.
The most common causes are agricultural implements, machines, and tools. However, the use of animals also generates mechanical risks.
These risks arise from the worker’s exposure to poisonous animals, particles of stored grain, infectious agents, animal waste, and pollen.
The problem arises from the intense rhythm and disorganization of work. The tension generates muscular pain and serious dysfunctions, such as repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and musculoskeletal diseases.
From the identification of the risks to which rural workers are exposed, it is possible to determine the actions that contribute to the prevention of these scenarios. Some of the strategies used in this sense are:
- supervision of the collaborators;
- promoting suitable working conditions to eliminate technical irregularities, constant defects, and other factors which harm the workers’ safety
- carrying out training so that workers know how to execute their tasks safely;
- providing protection against the sun’s rays and usage of other PPE to avoid risks;
- guarantee of appropriate transport;
- provide shelters to protect against storms.
Note that the idea is to implement a set of measures that include actions for hygiene, safety, and medicine at work. These rules are similar to those required for other sectors. One of the main problems in rural properties is supervision. This is why it is more complex to coordinate actions and monitor preventive measures.
What are the main causes of accidents?
In many cases, accidents at work in the field can be prevented, or at least mitigated. See, below, what are the main causes of these events.
The defect or lack of equipment and preservation devices, technical irregularities, and the poor conditions of the work environment make up this type of risk. Some examples are inadequate manual tools, the absence of protection in pulleys and gears, and the inexistence of a safety cabin or chassis in tractors.
The conduct of the worker does not always contribute to safety. Many times, they are overly confident because they have been performing the same task for many years — a posture that exposes them to danger. This is the case with speeding vehicles and machines, misusing safety devices, and working in slippers or barefoot.
Personal factors also generate risks to the individual. Included in this category are:
- health problems;
- physiological conditions such as deafness, visual impairment, or epilepsy;
- psychological and emotional conditions, such as lack of motivation to work due to personal friction;
- limitations in reasoning, ability, and intelligence.
What are the main legal obligations?
In Brazil, the Regulatory Norms (NRs) of the Consolidation of Labour Laws (CLT) were approved in June 1978. These establish the guidelines to be followed with regard to occupational safety and medicine. In December 1994, NRs 7 (on medical exams) and 9 (on environmental risks) were reformulated.
This movement gave rise to the Programme for Medical Control and Occupational Health (PCMSO) and the Programme for the Prevention of Environmental Risks (PPRA). Furthermore, NR 31 is also important for employees who work in the field. Find out more!
Implemented by means of NR 7, this is part of a large group of initiatives related to workers’ health in Brazil. Its goal is to detect any deviation; it must be done based on a plan of actions to be carried out during the year.
The document also needs to be revised every 12 months. Its execution is done by an occupational doctor, who carries out demission, admission, job change, and return to work exams.
Created by NR 9, its purpose is to implement a methodology to preserve the health and integrity of workers. It is the responsibility of an occupational safety engineer or technician because the actions are aimed at reducing risks and accidents by protecting natural resources and the environment.
Within this program, the unhealthy conditions must be identified based on the tolerance limits set by law. A percentage of 10%, 20%, or 40% should be added to them, according to the minimum, medium, or maximum level of exposure, respectively.
This NR focuses on occupational safety and health in agriculture, cattle-raising, forestry, aquaculture, and logging. Therefore, it is the main regulation for fieldwork. The goal is for the employer to offer safe conditions for work, based on risk assessments and the creation of the necessary protection measures.
NR 31 also introduces the Specialised Safety and Health Service for Rural Work (SESTR). In general terms, this norm determines that the risks must be identified and subsequently eliminated, monitoring the effectiveness of the measures adopted.
Among the safety measures implemented by NR 31 there are those related to the following aspects:
- environment and waste;
- manual tools
- chemical pesticides;
- safety at work in agricultural machinery and implements;
- transportation of workers;
- rural buildings;
- climatic and topographic factors;
- accesses and circulation routes.
Furthermore, NR 31 determines that PPEs are compulsory in the rural environment. They are:
- face shields;
- safety glasses;
- ear protectors;
- safety gloves;
- respirators with mechanical, combined, or chemical filters;
- safety shoes
- jackets and capes;
- waistcoats or signaling bands;
- special clothing.
With these guidelines from the legislation, it becomes clearer how it is possible to do a good rural administration, right? However, there are still other aspects to consider, as we will see from now on.
What are the essential tools and equipment?
IPEs are essential for human safety in field activities. Agricultural machinery and implements, on the other hand, contribute to cost reduction and the implementation of technology in farming.
These two categories need to be analyzed separately to understand exactly how to use these resources and ensure maximum safety for employees.
Legislation determines the use of adequate equipment. And they are not only auxiliary in accident prevention safety; they are fundamental for the protection of the worker’s health and life. That’s why it’s necessary to use high-quality PPE, keep sprayers calibrated and without leaks, and apply pesticides in favorable weather conditions.
In addition, it is necessary to take care of food safety. This means making the most of the food produced and consumed, as well as sustainable management of production. IPEs help in this matter because they reduce or eliminate the chances of contamination.
Rural workers should also follow other recommendations, such as not smoking, not drinking, not eating, and not touching personal objects with contaminated gloves. It is also necessary to protect the eyes to avoid any type of damage to them.
In this case, the main equipment to be used are:
- neoprene or nitrile gloves: they protect the hands from contamination and are required when handling the product;
- apron: must be worn on the front of the body for the mixture preparation; during the application with knapsack sprayers, it must be worn on the back of the body, to avoid contamination and reduce friction;
- boots: should be made of PVC to prevent the absorption of pesticides. Ideally one should wear them inside the trousers;
- clothing: should be made with a water-repellent treatment to provide greater thermal comfort and safety. The arms and legs may be waterproof, in order to protect the worker even more.
Remember that these aspects are mandatory, as determined by the legislation, and that the EPIs must be of good quality and durability. Therefore, to prioritize the preservation of the employee’s health, choose the best cost-benefit over the lower price.
The tools you use can be manual or automated. The first does not usually represent risks of serious accidents. Nevertheless, they can generate permanent or temporary incapacity. On the other hand, portable hand tools that are mechanical or motorized, like chainsaws, have even caused deaths. For this reason, they require more attention to avoid damage and disturbances.
The most common accidents at work are lacerations, cuts, and contusions. If treated quickly, these injuries are simple to solve. However, if the procedures are ignored, there may get infected and worsen the situation.
The recommendations regarding the tools used (which vary according to the function performed) are:
- carry the manual tools properly; never leave them scattered or loose on the truck bodies or cabins;
- use a protective case or a sheath for items that require such care, such as scythes, axes, machetes, etc.;
- keep the tools in adequate conditions; for example, the cutters need to be sharp to avoid extra effort from the employee and preserve their good conditions of use;
- leave the tools in safe and non-dangerous places;
- use the necessary PPE, such as leggings, boots, or gloves;
- Keep away from other employees to prevent them from hitting each other while moving the tools;
- instead of throwing it, hand the object over to the colleague.
Among the essential tools for rural work, we can highlight: wheelbarrow, hoe, sickle, lampoon, boot, nail hammer, sprayer, saw, tape measure, and horseshoe tongs.
Regarding agricultural machinery and implements, the most commonly used are: power generators, soil drills, tractors, and water and grease pumps.
How can technology help?
Technological devices create a different scenario for the rural environment. Precision agriculture was developed from the adoption of digital — so it goes beyond mechanization. The idea, in this case, is to connect equipment to software and collect data on the crop, climate, and soil with the purpose of achieving greater efficiency.
However, technology can also contribute to safety and accident prevention. Through some alternatives, you can manage the equipment remotely and be more precise in the actions performed, two measures that help ensure worker safety.
It works like an onboard computer that indicates, by means of lights, if the vehicle is moving in accordance with what was determined or if there is any misalignment. This check is done by GPS.
The lightbar is widely used for spraying and other activities that require precision. Thus, there is an increase in food safety and protection of the employee’s health. In addition, this technology can be complemented with autopilot, which also relies on GPS or other technologies to work.
The principle is to use georeferencing, sensors, electro-hydraulic valves, and/or accelerometers to automate the machines and guarantee their functioning without the need for direct human intervention. For the producer, in addition to increasing the planting season, this represents safety and accident prevention.
The autopilot is also an efficient way to carry out precise actions, especially when it comes to pesticide application, as well as to reduce costs by cutting down on overruns and failures.
Sensors are part of the precision agriculture technologies that help reduce accidents in the field. Their main function is to collect information from the environment and generate data on different factors to be analyzed, such as height, wind speed, temperature, air humidity, and soil variability.
Through this capacity, they identify the best ways to optimize the crop and protect the employee’s health. For example: by means of height sensors, you can analyze the topography of the terrain and, based on this, adjust the sprayer booms automatically, without the need for an operator.
This resource already contributes to accident prevention, but the fact that the machine is adapted to uneven terrain is essential to prevent machine rollovers. According to data from the Laboratory for the Investigation of Accidents with Agricultural Machinery (LIMA), this is the leading cause of accidents in the field, accounting for 60% of all events.
This type of machine works without direct human intervention, but it is a more complex technology than autopilot. These vehicles have full autonomy and their operation takes place remotely. In this way, an employee supervises several of them at the same time.
More than efficiency, autonomous vehicles offer great safety. Due to the intelligent technology embedded in cameras and sensors, they identify people, animals, objects, and any other element. This significantly reduces the chance of accidents, especially when compared to a tractor operated by an employee, who is limited to his sight and hearing.
Another benefit is the interruption of activities by pressing an emergency button, which can be used as soon as any unexpected condition arises. This technology has already reached sprayers, reducing the occurrence of diseases caused by chemical pesticides.
How important is the maintenance of agricultural machinery in accident prevention?
The maintenance of agricultural machines and implements is essential to prevent accidents and guarantee worker safety. The professional must be qualified to operate the instrument, in addition to participating in training and qualification courses to extract the maximum potential from the equipment. However, it is also necessary to ensure good working conditions.
For this, it is important to perform maintenance. This is the process that guarantees safety and reliability. After all, up-to-date equipment is less likely to behave unpredictably or out of line. Faults are also significantly reduced.
There are four formats of maintenance.
Its purpose is to correct or restore the equipment’s operation after its failure or breakage. It may be:
- planned, when the machine is no longer working as it should;
- unplanned, after the interruption of activities.
- both involve high costs and generate losses for the company by paralyzing the production rhythm and causing accidents or quality problems.
The purpose is to reduce or prevent machine failure or breakdown. It is the cheapest maintenance and the one that reduces accident risks. It also avoids waste and quality problems.
The purpose is to signal the current operating conditions of the equipment, based on data that proves its wear and tear or degradation. Corrections occur only when necessary, based on the manufacturer’s indications, or due to damage to the machines. It is a model that allies with planned maintenance.
Total productive maintenance
In this format, employees must deal with it collaboratively. It is an evolution from corrective to preventive maintenance and is based on the 5S. Therefore, its goals are to:
- improve equipment efficiency;
- foster autonomous maintenance;
- plan the maintenance;
- qualify the employees to handle the machines;
- manage the equipment.
After getting to know the four maintenance models, be aware that the ideal is to invest in preventive maintenance, which generates fewer costs and is more efficient in preventing accidents. A program needs to be elaborated to avoid problems in the equipment used and guarantee that the professionals involved are kept safe.
Remember, also, to have good inventory management. Any type of maintenance requires pieces and other replacement items. By planning preventive actions, you can plan the necessary elements for these procedures. This way, you avoid unnecessary and sudden costs, which harm your farm management.
As you could see, accident prevention is the first step to guaranteeing good management and ensuring the necessary improvements. This practice needs to be adopted right now, but it depends on specific actions, as we have shown throughout this post. Therefore, look for quality agricultural implements and inputs, valuing the cost-benefit. The result will be the efficiency of the actions and a decrease in negative events.
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