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OSHA and WABA collaborating on farmworker safety

A Wisconsin farmers' group and federal regulators have teamed up to strengthen the safety of farmworkers. The combined safety information and training program is designed to reduce accidents that affect numerous employees every year, many of whom are not covered under workers' compensation insurance.

Agricultural employees are especially susceptible to bodily injuries, including back and neck injuries caused by falls. Other precautions are needed to avoid worker engulfment, machine-related hazards, electrocutions and flammable grain dust. Employees on farms are also prone to getting struck by objects.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Wisconsin Agri-Business Association will emphasize safety training for unusual dangers that surround farm work. The joint force hopes to increase safety awareness with information dissemination using speakers to reach members of the state's grain and feed community.

Among the measures the groups will address are the safe use of machine guards and electricity and the proper way to manage and perform work in confined spots, like silos.

Farmers with a small number of employees are not required to carry workers' compensation coverage in Wisconsin. The insurance safety net that pays benefits to victims of at-work injuries and illnesses is unavailable.

The exceptions to the Workers' Compensation Act for farmers are not the same as other Wisconsin employers. Employee pay is not connected to a farmer's requirement to carry workers' comp insurance. Farmers may also have more employees than non-farm employers before workers' compensation becomes mandatory.

Complications also exist when an employer owns a family farm and hires relatives to work it alongside non-family employees. Farm employers who belong to certain religious sects are required to carry worker injury and accident insurance coverage but alternative benefits may be acceptable.

Injured farm workers who are not covered may be eligible to file a legal complaint against a negligent employer for personal injury. An attorney who understands the complexities of workers' rights and compensation laws can provide up-to-date information and advice.

Source: osha.gov, "US Department of Labor's OSHA establishes alliance with Wisconsin Agri-Business Association to address grain industry hazards," Scott Allen and Rhonda Burke, Dec. 3, 2012

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