If you have food on the table, you would probably think that it came from the supermarkets and grocery stores. You just go out and buy them, cook and eat. It is as easy as that for most Americans. But you have to thank the agricultural workers for that. They are the ones who plant, cultivate and harvest, and process what you have on your dinner table.
These workers often leave their families for months to follow the crops and find work to bring us the freshest fruits, vegetables, and other farm produce. They earn low wages and have to contend with substandard living conditions, long hours, and isolation
Agricultural workers are people working on farms and maintaining crops like fruits, vegetables, and livestock. They may work in small farms, large industrial corporations, or family-run farms. While some are full-time employees, most workers are temporary and seasonal.
The kind of labor that agricultural workers do is one of the reasons why most US states exempt them from workers’ compensation.
What is Worker’s Compensation and why are they Important?
Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides coverage to workers if they get injuries at work or become ill because of the work they do. Almost all U.S. states require employers to avail of workers’ compensation either through the government or private insurance companies. Workers are provided with medical care and benefits for work-related injuries. Employers, on the other hand, have coverage for lawsuits if their workers decide to sue.
BENEFITS OF WORKERS COMPENSATION
- Medical coverage for the employee including hospital bills, doctors visits, and laboratory works
- Disability benefits if the workers are temporarily or permanently disabled. They still have compensation for work they will miss due to their injury
- Death benefits including funeral expenses and burial costs. Their beneficiaries, spouse and children, will receive a lump sum of money for the worker’s death.
Do Agricultural Workers have Workers Compensation?
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the agricultural sector is one of the three most hazardous sectors in the labor force. It runs alongside the construction and mining industry. This means that the risk of injury and death is twice as much as in other industries. The most common injuries involved in the agricultural sector include:
Farmworkers face dangers when using tractors and machinery used in planting and cultivating crops. They often work long hours and to make up for the time during bad weather, they don’t pay much attention to how they operate machines just to do the job. They are prone to tractor rollovers, machine entanglements, and ATVs running on dangerous grounds.
The number one chemical that poses the greatest hazards is pesticides. Farmers rely on chemicals to grow more crops. They mix and load these chemicals and may face danger from splatter. Most farmers like working without protective gear which makes them more exposed to dangerous chemicals.
Long hours under the sun can cause heat stress and skin cancer. Without sunblock and proper skin protection, farmers may develop skin damage and eye injuries. During winter, farmworkers who take care of animals may cause frostbites and hypothermia when they go outdoors.
Negligence is the number cause of a faulty tool or instrument. It is common for employers to just repair faulty devices and tools. They don’t provide proper safety devices thus making workers vulnerable to injuries and death.
Direct contact with animals is also hazardous to the farmworker. They kick, bite and often trample on caretakers. Animal diseases can also infect humans and cause different types of illnesses to farmworkers.
With all the dangers and hazards that our farmworkers face everyday, you would think that they are well protected with workers’ compensation. But most of them are not. There are many exemptions when it comes to farmworkers. There are different levels of protection depending on what kind of farmworker you are. Regular workers are fully protected. Migrant and seasonal workers may be a little tricky. Their coverage, if any, maybe not be enough and sometimes none at all. Temporary workers who may come from employment agencies will most likely receive coverage from the agency.
You, as an employer, can also look for suitable coverage for your workers. There are many ways you can give your farm workers benefits and privileges if they are not eligible for workers’ compensation. It is also best that you make their work environment safe and suitable for farm work.
Tips on Keeping You and Your Farm Workers Safe
With or without workers’ compensation, it is important that employers keep their farms safe for them and all their agricultural workers. Follow these tips to ensure a safe farm environment for everyone.
Familiarize everyone with the farm.
Farmworker or not, every person on the farm must be familiar with every nook and cranny of the farm. This is important especially if you have big farmland. If everyone is familiar with the layout of the land, it will be easier to get to an injured worker in case of an accident.
Train all employees in the use of any equipment.
Certain types of work will require special skills in handling tools and equipment. Although these will be specialized jobs, it is advisable to give everyone basic training in handling and using these tools. This will ensure that in case of an accident, everyone will be knowledgeable in handling the situation.
Set up an emergency plan.
Every employer must make sure that a safety and emergency plan is in place. When disaster or accidents occur, every employee must know what to do and where to go. There should be special locations where they can gather and be safe. Animals should also be in the emergency plan so they can be safe as well.
Provide for regular first aid basic training seminars
Basic first aid training is a must in any industry. Every employee must know first aid basics. Knowing what to do in case a fellow worker gets injuries will lessen the number of deaths on the farm. This training must be at least annually to refresh their minds on the basics.
Wear protective gear especially when handling chemicals.
Mishandling of chemicals is one of the hazards in agricultural work. Exposure to pesticides and other hazardous materials can lead to death. Employers should make available protective gear to ensure the safety of the people handling chemicals. Farmworkers on the other hand must make sure that they are properly protected before mixing or using any chemicals.
Stay up to date on state laws and requirements for farming.
All farm personnel must know what state laws and requirements are applicable to their farm especially if you have migrant farmers. Migrant and seasonal workers usually hop from one farm to another and the policy on each state may confuse them. Authorities should inform them of what they can and cannot do.
Keep hazardous materials under lock and key at all times.
To keep everyone on the farm safe, it is recommended that hazardous materials be kept and locked in a safe place. It must require assigned people to open and only knowledgeable workers can use these kinds of materials.
Allow authorized persons only to operate farm tractors and ATVs.
Only licensed workers can operate tractors and ATVs. Tractor accidents are common and often result in serious injuries and death. Rollovers and overturns are the most common accident. Operators must be properly trained and familiar with the tractor’s manual. A safety check must be done every time before and after using the vehicle.
Do farm upgrades every few years.
Old and unrepairable tools, equipment, and vehicles must be upgraded every few years. This will ensure that your tools will comply with safety standards in farming.
Ensure that farmworkers are well-rested.
Fatigue and stress can cause injuries and accidents. When a farm worker lacks rest and sleep, he will not be able to function properly thus making him prone to accidents. With all the things that a farmworker needs to do, it is important that he is in the best of health.
Agricultural workers provide invaluable service to our country. They work long hours with low wages and substandard living conditions. They face a lot of challenges exposing themselves to occupational risks and other health hazards. Their resilience is something that we ought to emulate.
Employers should make sure that our farmworkers are given the protection they need. They must be given the benefits them. Workers’ compensation insurance is just one of the ways to give them the security due them. Take care of them and they take care of your produce.
If you want to know more about workers’ compensation, feel free to contact one of Advantage Insurance Solutions’ expert agents here in Denver, CO. Keep yourself and your farm workers safe and call AIS today.