Older farmers remain active on the farm for several reasons including good health, desire to remain active, financial, or enjoyment of life on the farm. The average age of farmers in Ohio is 56 years. However, farming is traditionally a labor-intensive profession that involves physically demanding work. For older farmers, this can present problems in the form of health or safety issues. Many farmers as they age may not be aware of changes in their sensory systems because these changes are usually gradual. Some considerations include:
People's reaction times tend to become slower with age. Therefore, older farmers may not react as quickly in a hazardous situation, especially when operating equipment or working with livestock. Safety precautions include:
- Minimize background noise.
- Get regular vision exams.
- Be alert because sense of touch can diminish with age.
- Use sufficient lighting in darkness and reduce glare in extreme brightness.
- Ensure that warning devices on equipment are operational.
Older farmers can suffer from decreased balance due to aging, development of medical conditions, or the effect of medications used to treat other conditions. With aging, the physiological systems that play a key role in maintaining balance may become diminished (e.g., vision, muscle tone, inner ear, and nervous system). Safety precautions include:
- Keep walking and working surfaces dry and free from obstacles or debris.
- Maintain 3 points of contact when mounting or dismounting equipment (1 hand/2 feet) (2 hands/1 foot).
- Anticipate changes in ground elevation or rough terrain.
High repetition and frequent overexertion can harm an aging musculoskeletal system. Farmers typically feel the effects of musculoskeletal aging mainly in their knees, fingers, hips, and back. Safety precautions include:
- When increased efforts are needed, ask for help or use mechanical means.
- Organize work areas to avoid reaching above shoulder level or from an awkward position.
- Minimize repetitive tasks and avoid prolonged standing.
- Make an effort to minimize vibration when using tools or equipment.
Cardiovascular respiratory function can decline 15 percent to 25 percent from age 20 to age 65. Oxygen consumption sharply declines after the age of 50, which makes intense physical activity more difficult for older farmers. Safety precautions include:
- Avoid strenuous activities in hot/humid environments or extreme cold environments.
- Be cautious of physically demanding activities that are not routinely performed.
- Set a pace and take breaks while performing work tasks over a long period of time.
Gradual loss of hearing can be expected as people age. Some older farmers may have more profound hearing loss, due to years of exposure to loud equipment or continuous noise over a long period of time. Reduced visual perception, particularly near vision, can make it difficult for older farmers to perform tasks at a close range. Safety precautions include:
- Minimize machine or background noise.
- Avoid crossing between dim areas and brightly lit areas.
- Improve contrast between objects by increasing lighting.
- Use Personal Protective Equipment when appropriate (ear plugs, safety glasses, welding helmet).
This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; Josh Svarda, Program Coordinator, Easter Seals Work Resource Center.
Dunning, Kari, James Lockey, Amit Bhattacharya, Kermit Davis, and Arvind Modawal. 2004. "Prevention Tips for Older Workers." Cincinnati, OH: University of Cincinnati. PDF.
Iowa State University. n.d. "Safety Tips for Farming with Limitations Due to Aging."
Lampl, M. 2009. "Protecting Older Workers." In Safety Leaders Discussion Guide–2009. Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.
About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets
These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.