How To Protect Students In Agricultural Programs & Other High-Risk Majors

Picture of Mary Kate McGrath By Mary Kate McGrath


agriculture safetyStudents in agricultural programs and other high-risk majors might need to follow special safety programs since these majors can be physically intensive and require special training. It’s important for school safety managers to put together a comprehensive safety plan that considers all students, including those in agriculture or other high-risk majors.

Agriculture science degree programs are integral to college or university offerings and the future of the food industry. Top agricultural programs offer students the opportunity to specialize in animal sciences, horticulture, crop science, turf management, aquaculture, and agronomy. 

Managing safety for an agricultural program typically involves special considerations. According to the USDA, farmworkers are exposed to a variety of safety, health, environmental, biological, and respiratory hazards. These include animal-acquired infection and other related hazards, large-quantity grain bins and silos, dangerous equipment and machinery, heat and weather-related injury, ladders, falls, and other musculoskeletal injuries, noise hazards, pesticides and other chemicals that can cause respiratory stress, unsanitary conditions, and tractor or vehicle hazards. These are all complex safety challenges college or university agricultural department must consider, and leaders in the field can collaborate with campus safety teams to minimize risk for students.

Training, communication and well-managed facilities are all essential for creating a safe environment for agricultural workers. Agriculture programs on campus should prioritize these values to keep teachers, students and staff safe and secure. Student-run farms will likely have a set of rules and regulations in addition to typical college or university safety policy. Given the dangerous nature of agricultural field work, which often involves highly-technological machinery, animal life, and other special considerations, these will be different from the main safety protocol on campus. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t several key strategies safety managers can employ to keep these students safe.

What Is An Agriculture Major?

Agriculture students can specialize and work in a variety or sub-categories within the field. These days, a comprehensive agriculture degree is likely to combine science and research with fieldwork. For example, the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers Associate, Bachelor, and Graduate degrees. The offerings include hands-on programs such as arboriculture and community forest management, landscape contracting, sustainable food, farming, and horticulture. There are also more science and research-based studies such as horticulture science, plant and soil sciences, and turfgrass science and management. There is a particular focus on sustainability, and students are likely to be connected both to the farming and green industries.

In recent years, agriculture has become more science and research-based. Even so, the degree program is likely to contain field work that can be physically taxing, even if this not the student’s planned area of expertise. Therefore, these programs present more risks than other areas of academia, even for those looking to pursue agricultural economics, which involves studying the way the financial industry impacts farmers or researching how to maximize resources.

Agriculture on campus is not only critical for the future of the food industry, but it can also become an integral part of student life. Student-run farms can even be appealing for that outside of an agricultural major. The process of physically planting a garden can be therapeutic for students  - with scientific evidence showing that gardening improves mental health by teaching responsibility, connecting people to the natural earth, and providing a welcome distraction from stressful factors. In 2008, an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education argued that agriculture education should be part of any liberal arts degree. The thesis of the piece argued that new worries about global climate change bring new value to knowledge of cultivating seeds. For many reasons, students may want to become involved in farm life on campus.

There are lots of potential reasons that a college or university, even those in more urban settings, might invest in agriculture and bioscience. Many schools integrate farming with food service offerings, providing a sustainable way to offer healthy food to the community. This programming remains relevant, and Administrators and campus safety managers should consider how best to keep those students safe, whether it’s for students building a career in agriculture or simply paying a visit to farm facilities.  

How Can Safety Managers Keep Agricultural Students Safe?

The first way that colleges and universities can keep agricultural students safe is to follow appropriate food safety protocol. Even though students are training in the field, it’s important that worker safety and hygiene are prioritized. Directions for hygienic protocol and other farm practice should be clearly communicated to employees. This means educating workers on the hygienic risks in their role, so they can be empowered to identify concerns that might arise. Hygiene is a huge part of agriculture safety and the responsibility falls on managers as well. Make sure that employees have clean, well-stocked restrooms, handwashing stations, and potable water for drinking. In general, providing employees with a positive, responsive, and clean work environment will improve safety for all employees and student trainees.

Communication is an essential part of safety for students studying a high-risk major. Training should be intensive, and for students just beginning fieldwork, supervision is key. It’s important for students to learn the best safety practices during their training to manage safety while in the program, but also so they can carry these precautions into the field after graduation. Making sure that all workers understand USDA guidelines - this means understanding their rights as employees and preventing a situation where workers might burnout put their own health in jeopardy.  

Educate visitors on farm practices as well. If students from various majors and outside guests are going to be coming on and off the agricultural facilities on campus, make sure that they understand farm protocol. Posting signs that inform guests about the location of restrooms and hand-washing facilities, areas that are off-limits, not coming to the farm with illness, and making sure not to bring pets or other animals. SMS Opt-In can be a powerful tool for keeping visitors safe while on a campus farm. The tool allows visitors to text a code and opt-in for notifications during their visits, and safety managers can create multiple codes for one event or use the same code for different uses.

Leveraging Technology To Keep Agricultural Workers Safe

A mass notification system can be a component of a communication plan on campus that includes the agricultural school. It’s especially essential for students, teachers, and staff working in agriculture to receive severe weather notifications and other critical updates. If a situation on campus might compromise the safety of those working outdoors, it’s important for updates to reach the community as fast as possible. Certain dangers, such as weather, can even impact those who are visiting or volunteering with the school farm. This way, those managing agriculture program will be able to expand the reach of information that is relevant to those working in the field.

A campus safety app can also bolster safety for students working in agriculture. The app allows students to communicate directly with campus safety teams. It also has location capability - if a student is injured while working within the agriculture department, this will help first responders reach them faster. Time can be essential in the case of injury, and the faster that campus safety or local EMS teams know the nature of the medical emergency, the more efficient the response will be.sms opt=in

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Mary Kate McGrath

Written by Mary Kate McGrath

Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.


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