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President's message: Annual Safety Awareness Week takes on additional meaning

Issue Date: March 3, 2021
By Jamie Johansson
Jamie Johansson, California Farm Bureau President

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual recognition of Ag Safety Awareness Program Week takes on particular significance and urgency.

Agricultural health and safety issues have been in the spotlight for much of the past year—in the news, in public-policy circles, in the courts and, of course, on California farms and ranches, where new layers of precaution have been added to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission.

At this time a year ago, the reality of COVID-19 was just beginning to become apparent. Think of all the farm safety innovations that have been taken since then, on top of existing procedures: the millions of gloves and masks distributed; the new social-distancing and hygiene protocols instituted; the Plexiglas and vinyl barriers installed.

While those efforts have continued on farms and ranches, agricultural organizations have advocated tirelessly for resources to maintain and enhance the on-farm safety work. Farm Bureau also purchased airtime on Spanish-language stations to broadcast public service announcements encouraging pandemic-safety measures away from work as well as on the job.

Most recently, Farm Bureau has advocated at the state and county levels to arrange COVID-19 vaccines for farm and ranch employees, and has pressed county and state officials to make more vaccine available more quickly for those essential workers. We won't slow down until every farm employee who wants a vaccine has one—and we'll do our best to encourage every employee to be vaccinated.

California farmers, ranchers and other businesses also face new layers of regulation, in the form of "emergency temporary standards" imposed late last year by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. We considered the standards unnecessary and impractical; Farm Bureau joined a coalition of agricultural organizations that sued the state to have the rules set aside.

Last week, a judge decided the temporary standards should stay in place. We're disappointed in the ruling, as you might expect, and are considering our options. In the meantime, Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations will work with Cal/OSHA to assure it better understands the essential businesses and agricultural operations it regulates, so the agency can inject practicality into the temporary standards as it develops forthcoming policies and guidance.

And, in the spirit of this week's Ag Safety Awareness Program Week, Farm Bureau will continue its ongoing efforts to reinforce the need for improved health and safety on the farm. Amid the intense focus on COVID-19 safety, we must always remember to maintain the other safety duties we perform.

Many county Farm Bureaus offer safety-training programs, often in conjunction with our partners at Nationwide. The Farm Employers Labor Service, a California Farm Bureau affiliate, provides a full range of safety training on aspects of farm work such as tractor and farm-equipment operation, back-injury prevention, forklift safety, pesticide handling, harvest safety, respiratory protection and much more.

There's another focus of Ag Safety Awareness Program Week that's particularly timely during the pandemic: a focus on farmer wellness and mental health.

Farming is a stressful occupation in the best of times—and these certainly aren't the best of times for most of us. An American Farm Bureau survey not long ago found more than half of rural adults, including farmers and farm employees, have been experiencing more stress than a year earlier.

Take some time this week to look for signs that someone you know may be feeling severe stress: things such as changes in routines or social activities, decline in appearance of the farm or the care of domestic animals, increase in illnesses or other chronic conditions, or decreased interest in activities or events. The American Farm Bureau maintains a website with a variety of mental health resources at

It's important for all of us to watch out for ourselves and each other—not just during Ag Safety Awareness Program Week, of course, but routinely, all year. Eat well. Drive safely. Review that safety checklist and follow it to the letter, even though you're about to do a job you've done a hundred or a thousand times before.

Although farmers and ranchers depend on many resources to produce food and farm products—soil, water, nutrients—by far the most important resource is people. During Ag Safety Awareness Program Week, let's renew our commitment to protecting the people who live and work in rural California.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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