Florida AgSafe is a program of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service directed by Dr. Carol J. Lehtola. Florida AgSafe coordinates the Florida Agricultural Safety Program and the UF/IFAS Disaster Information Program.
At the Florida AgSafe Web site, educators, safety trainers, producers and the general public can find educational information for making the agricultural workplace or the home, yard, and garden safer and healthier. This site also contains materials relevant for disasters and emergency situations (see "Emergency Resources" under Safety Topics).
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Safety for Agricultural Operations and Equipment
Agriculture remains one of the nation's and the state's most dangerous occupations. Typically, farmers are more likely to be injured or killed on the job than policeman or firefighters. Contrary to the popular image, agriculture is an industrial activity which exposes Florida's 200,000 farmers and farm workers to a wide variety of hazards - some obvious and some well hidden.
Agricultural safety does not just apply to farm owners or workers. The number of non-farmers that own agricultural equipment and perform agricultural operations from using a riding lawnmower or chain saw to working a small hobby farm is increasing. The Do-It-Yourself movement has home owners renting all sorts of tillers and wood chippers. As use of this kind of small-scale agricultural equipment becomes more common, so will the injuries that result.
Safety is especially critical to the small farm and the family farm. A major injury or death can mean the end of such an enterprise. On these farms, usually, every person is productively engaged in farm activities. These farms are often pressured to put children to work at very young ages because their labor is needed to keep the farm from failing. A serious injury can critically wound farm operations because a worker is unable to perform and often another worker's efforts are diverted to caretaking. In addition to this, which can mean reduced income, there are the medical expenses.
Most agricultural workers in Florida are employed by large corporations. The turnover is moderate to high, and each worker brings his or her own set of safety standards to the job. It is important for producers to establish safety programs and safety standards so that injuries and deaths are minimized. Every injury in this kind of operation means worker compensation and lost productivity. The problem is compounded if lawsuits are involved, and an injury incident can have a long-term impact on morale and worker-manager relations.
Through education of students, training for employees and managers, and dissemination of the latest health and safety information, the University of Florida's Extension Agricultural Safety Program plays a unique and crucial role in ameliorating this situation. No other organization or agency plays this role for the state of Florida.
Like safety in general, agricultural safety is a widely diverse topic which covers the range of mechanical, natural, and chemical hazards that farmers and ranchers face. Subjects from animal behavior to bacteriology to physics come into play. A comprehensive safety program for Florida must address the pattern of exposures experienced by workers in over 40 major commodity groups, on small private family farms in the Panhandle and large corporation operations in central and south Florida, taking into account cultural barriers, literacy levels, language barriers, etc. All this in a continually evolving regulatory environment.
Also, the face of agriculture is changing. The majority of farm and ranch workers was once farm families. Now, most farming and ranching is done by corporate concerns, and many of their workers are recent immigrants from Central and South America. We are actively working to produce and deliver programs in both English and Spanish.
want safety to be the first consideration of every agricultural
manager, not the last; we want our agricultural engineers to
"design with safety in mind," not tack on labels and
shields as an afterthought. We want employers to realize that
proper attitudes and training in safety improve the bottom line
by increasing worker productivity and reducing liabilities. We
want workers to realize that proper awareness and understanding
of safety is not a waste of time, it is an investment in themselves
and their future. Accomplishing this means changing minds and
Disaster Preparedness and Recovery
"Disaster" has always been a normal part of life in Florida because of the annual hurricane season. Florida is also susceptible to river floods, droughts, wildland fires, and freezes. For almost 50 years, Florida has consistently ranked as the top state in terms of the economic impact of natural disaster, with an average cost per year of $1.7 billion (1999 dollars; data for 1955-1999). The potential impact of disasters on Florida continues to increase with Florida's growth.
One of Florida's great assets is its extensive coastline. At 1350 miles, it is the longest coastline in the continental United States. Florida's coast is heavily built, especially on the east and southwest coasts. These areas face special dangers from hurricane-induced storm surges. Florida's "coastal plain" is also very low-lying and readily subject to flooding. Millions of Florida residents live in areas that could be flooded. In the event of an approaching hurricane, potentially affected coastal communities would have to be evacuated.
Increasing population has resulted in considerable development and urban sprawl. There are huge subdivisions and communities where formerly there was only range, forest, or swamp. Large urban populations have put considerable stress on Florida's water resources, increasing the stress on and competition for resources during drought.
Wildfire can be a significant danger in Florida. The 1998 fire season was one of the worst on record. Development exacerbates the problem because so much development is taking place at the wildland-urban interface.'
The last few years have increased awareness of the possibility of intentional disasters, such as attempts to contaminate the food supply or direct attacks against people or buildings. Florida's role as a worldwide tourist destination might make it an attractive target for acts of terrorism. Florida's geographic situation, with its extensive coastline and easy access to the Caribbean, make it an ideal gateway for the illegal entry of people or materials.
Communities need guidance and expertise to prepare for, survive, and recover from the many kinds of events that can challenge them. The key to both surviving a disaster and recovering quickly is preparedness. A community cannot prepare for literally "anything," but good preparedness and planning are powerful ways of mitigating the impact of the kinds of disasters we already know are likely in Florida.
Florida Extension is well situated to provide information on preparedness, survival and recovery to a wide variety of audiences. Among the factors that make Extension uniquely suited for this task are Extension's educational mission, Extension's tradition of community involvement and the knowledge Extension professionals have of their localities.
Further, Florida Extension is engaged with many other agencies and groups working on disaster and terrorism issues, and again, is well positioned to bring a wide variety of resources to bear in creating informational and training materials.
Extension Resources for Disaster: