Early Development of Farm Safety

One would be remiss in not taking a brief historical look at the development of the farm safety movement in the United States as a backdrop for the development of the National Institute for Farm Safety. These early development activities helped delineate the severity of the farm safety problem and identified solutions to alleviate the pain and suffering associated with farm accidents.

Some safety efforts occurred in industry in the late 1800’s because of high accident rates and consequent demands from the labor movement for a safer work environment. During this time, fire prevention programs arose after a few notable fires in which death tolls were high enough to cause an apathetic public to take action. Those in the political arena saw safety as an issue worthy of discussion, and legislation was passed creating workmen’s laws and safer working environments for miners and railroaders. During this period, farm safety efforts were scattered and few.

In 1912, the First Cooperative Safety Congress met at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This event marked the beginning of organized safety on a national scale, provided a forum for the exchange of information, and formed a permanent body devoted to the promotion of safety among the nation’s industries. The National Safety Council was created in the following year. More safety congresses followed, along with the publication and distribution of the National Safety News, safety pamphlets and films. Safety legislation continued with the creation of the Bureau of Labor Standards in 1934.

The first great impetus given to organized farm safety occurred with the formation of a farm program as a part of the 1937 National Safety Congress. The proceedings of that meeting noted that agriculture, the nation’s oldest and largest industry, had yet to develop a safety program. Participants in this first farm safety conference called for the development of a program in agricultural accident prevention. Statistics at the time revealed that fatalities and disabling injuries in agriculture far outnumbered those in other industries.

Little had been done in the area of farm accident prevention before this time. The National Safety Council had published a few farm safety related articles but no pamphlets had been issued. One farm machinery manufacturer had published an illustrated farm safety booklet and the Illinois Agricultural Association and the Red Cross had distributed farm accident prevention materials. The 1937 Safety Congress passed a resolution asking the National Safety Council to organize a national farm safety program and asking that a permanent Council division be established to promote farm safety.

The first Farm and Home Safety Conference was held by the National Safety Council in 1942, and farm leaders met to develop a program. In 1943 the Council published the Farm Safety Review, and the Wisconsin Agricultural Extension Service appointed the first state farm safety specialist. A separate Farm Division of the National Safety Council was finally established in 1943, and Maynard H. Coe became its director the following year.

The growth of the U.S. farm safety movement with Coe heading the Council’s newly established Farm Division is well documented. In the mid-1940’s, more than 1,000 radio stations and 600 newspapers and farm publications promoted farm safety through announcements, articles and special programs. The list of state farm safety specialists grew to 13 in 10 years. Many pamphlets and films were developed in the interest of farm safety. Farm Safety Week was established and President Roosevelt signed the first proclamation. The Council recognized the home as a vital part of the farm safety movement and added women to the staff. Surveys were initiated and data were accumulated, facilitating a broad appraisal of the issue of farm and home accidents. Many states formed farm safety committees, which became the focal point in citing the need for, and in the hiring of, farm safety specialists in those crucial early years.