VIOLA, Ill. — As another harvest season begins, the Illinois Departments of Agriculture and Labor are reminding all farm workers to stay safe during the busy harvest season.
This week, September 19-25, marks National Farm Safety and Health Week, an effort to raise awareness for the dangers farmers face every day.
"Working on the farm, to me as a farmer doesn't come off as a dangerous occupation," said Chad Bell, owner and operator of Bell Farms in Viola. "But farming in general is a dangerous occupation."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the agriculture sector is the most dangerous in the country.
There are 573 fatalities each year in the farming profession, which equals 23 deaths per 100,000 workers.
Bell explained there are several hazards on the farm they deal with day to day. One danger he said is using a power take-off shaft on a tractor. Because it turns at a high speed, it's easy to get something tangled in it, such as a loose piece of clothing. Other dangers are as simple as driving a tractor.
"Accidentally dropping a tractor into gear and getting ran over or running over somebody," he said.
Bell added working with the grain bins is one of the most dangerous parts of the job
"If someone's in there, trying to help make that grain flow, they could potentially be entrapped when that grain finally gives way," he said. "It doesn't take much to trap your arms, your legs inside that grain, just a couple feet is enough to not allow you to move out of that grain. So if you're stuck in there and more grain even starts flowing, then you could be overcome by it and die from suffocation or being crushed."
For Bell, safety on the farm has become more important as he's gotten older. He said communication and understanding your coworkers' comfort levels is key.
"Just always knowing what's going on around you and never take that shortcut to get a task done sooner," he said.
Bell is also urging drivers to remain cautious on rural highways, where large, slow-moving farm vehicles are sometimes driving. While he tries to avoid the highway as much as possible, there are times it's his only option.
"It's similar to following a semi, if you can't see the semi driver's face in their mirror, then they can't see you, so just always be aware," Bell said. "Always just think about your family member being one of those people in the cab. Just stay back as far as you can."
Most farmworker injuries and deaths are caused by tractor overturns, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, resulting in around 130 deaths each year nationwide.