Head, Eye, and Foot Protection for Farm Workers

The National Safety Council estimates that approximately 120,000 agricultural workers suffer disabling injuries each year.
Head, Eye, and Foot Protection for Farm Workers - Articles


A damaged hard hat

The National Safety Council estimates that approximately 120,000 agricultural workers suffer disabling injuries each year. That's a conservative estimate--countless other accidents are never reported. Many farm injuries could be prevented or their impact reduced if farmers wore proper personal protective equipment.

This fact sheet discusses three types of personal protective equipment: protective headwear, eyewear, and footwear. Head protection designed to reduce the force of impact from falling or other overhead objects can mean the difference between suffering a mild concussion or having permanent brain damage. Eye injuries, which can have a direct and dramatic effect on our quality of life, could be cut by as much as 90 percent if farmers took the time to put on a pair of goggles before using a chainsaw or repairing farm machinery. Our feet are also very delicate and susceptible to injury without the proper protection. Our feet are made up of 26 fragile bones with very little natural padding. Safety footwear can protect our delicate feet.

Head Protection

In 1870, a worker stuffed a derby hat with paper, hoping it would help protect him against falling objects on the job. Today, computers are helping engineers design stronger, more comfortable hats to protect workers. Hard hats reduce the force of impact from falling objects such as tools and pieces of wood and some hard hats provide protection from side impacts as well. Bump caps protect workers from ordinary bumps and scrapes sustained when working in close quarters or under low ceilings. Farmers who wear head protection when performing everyday tasks such as building, demolishing or repairing structures; operating and repairing machinery; felling or trimming trees; and when entering or exiting buildings with low door clearances, reduce head injury incidences. If your farm is subject to OSHA regulations (more than 10 employees) the employer must be sure that each employee wears a protective helmet when working in areas where there is potential for injury to the head from falling objects.

Hard hats generally consist of a hard shell made of aluminum, fiberglass, or plastic and a suspension system made of plastic, nylon, or a combination of the two. Most shells today are made of lightweight thermoplastic resins, which are highly resistant to impact and have good dielectric (nonconductor of electric current) properties. The suspension system is the energy-absorbing mechanism and usually has crown straps that fit over the head, an adjustable headband, and protective padding. In general, nylon suspensions provide the greatest comfort and reduce the force of impact the best. Most hard hats have a sweatband for comfort around the forehead. Waterproof cotton or polyester blend linings are available for warmth in winter. Other accessories include earmuffs, welding helmets, and face shields. Basic hard hats are economical. Higher priced hard hats with accessories will add to their cost, but also increase their value in reducing other hazards.

Bump caps are lightweight with a thinner shell than hard hats and no suspension system. They are made to protect workers from bumps and minor head injury in areas with little headroom or low-hanging machinery. They provide no impact protection and should not be worn in areas where falling objects are a risk.

Standards for Head Protection

The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) and the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) outline performance standards for hard hats but not for bump caps. The standard categorizes helmets into two types: Type I helmets provide impact and penetration resistance for the top of the hard hat only; Type II hard hats provide some protection to the front, back and sides in addition to the top. Further classification of hard hats requires a designation for potential for electrical contact. Class C (conductive) hard hats offer no electrical contact protection. Class G (general) hard hats are tested at 2200 volts of electric current. Class E (electrical) hard hats are tested to withstand 20,000 volts of electric current. This current Class designation corresponds with older model protective headwear, and does not indicate the need to replace hard hats currently in use (see Hard Hat Maintenance section on page 2). Current hard hat standards include a high visibility ranking (hazard alert color(s)) and reverse wear provisions. All hats meeting ANSI standards are labeled inside the shell with the designation: ANSI/ ISEA Z89.1--2009.

Hard Hat Maintenance

Periodically check the hard hat for damage, such as dents and cracks. Never use a damaged hat. Either replace damaged parts or buy a new one. Don't try to fix hats with adhesives--there is no reliable way to ensure that dielectric or impact qualities will be retained. Use of a hard hat with broken nylon suspensions negates the purposes of using a hard hat.

Never store a hardhat where it will be exposed to sunlight, such as on the back window shelf of a vehicle. Ultraviolet light can damage and weaken nonmetallic materials such as plastic, what most hard hats are made of today. Ultraviolet damage first shows as dullness in the shell called chalking. Then the surface starts to flake away and degrade. A hat exhibiting these signs should be replaced immediately. Hard hats can become outdated even with limited usage.

Signs of and Treatments for Head Injuries

The brain is one of our most fragile organs--it merely floats inside the skull and is attached to it by a network of delicate fibers. A jolt to the head can tear blood vessels inside the brain and cause swelling, which can reduce blood flow throughout the brain.

If a coworker suffers a head injury serious enough to cause unconsciousness, they probably have some sort of brain injury. Contact emergency services immediately. If the victim is unconscious for only a few minutes, they probably have a mild concussion. He or she may be disoriented or confused after waking. Normal functioning usually returns after 45 minutes or so. If the person is still unconscious after 45 minutes, the injury is more serious. The victim may have rapid, deep breathing or a slow pulse--both caused by rising pressure inside the skull.

Evidence of a brain injury may not surface for several hours. After a head injury occurs, no matter how minor the incident might seem, the victim should be monitored for 48 hours. Look for the following ten signs: fluid or blood coming from the nose or ears; bruising around the eyes or ears; persistent vomiting; large or unresponsive pupils; loss of coordination; difficulty speaking; severe and worsening headache; double vision; excessive drowsiness; and convulsions. These signs can indicate anything from a cracked skull to increased pressure inside the skull. Seek help immediately.

If a coworker suffers a head injury, try to keep him or her still until help arrives. If the victim is not breathing, check for a pulse and administer CPR if necessary. Never apply pressure to a bleeding head wound--it may push bone fragments into the brain. Instead, lightly apply a clean, soft cloth.

Eye Protection

Eye injuries are expensive, painful, and can cause partial or total blindness in one or both eyes. Simple precautions can be taken to prevent them.

Most eye injuries result from flying particles. The eye's natural protection--the surrounding bone structure, eyelashes,tearing, and blinking--are no match for high-speed particles and objects. Farmers should wear eye protection when grinding feed, handling chemicals, harvesting crops, haying, and doing shop work such as drilling, grinding or sawing. Also wear eye protection when building, demolishing or repairing structures; repairing farm vehicles and machinery; welding and cutting with torches; and working in dusty atmospheres.

Basic safety glasses provide protection when there is risk of particles flying directly into the eye. They do not offer side protection. Safety lenses worn in streetwear eyeglass frames are not considered suitable safety glasses. Proper safety frames have grooves into which the safety lenses fit, preventing the lenses from popping out either forward or backward into the eye.

Most safety glasses are available with either permanent or detachable side shields to protect above, below, and to the sides of the eyes. When selecting glasses with side shields, make sure they do not interfere with peripheral vision.

Prescription safety glasses are available in a variety of frame styles--both plastic and metal. Bifocals and tinted lenses are also available. Variable tint lenses should be used with caution, however, since the tinting does not always go away instantaneously. This could be dangerous when going frequently from the indoors to the outdoors. Tinted lenses should be selected only when expected activities could involve bright flashes of light (e.g., welding).

Goggles fit snugly around the eyes, providing protection from all angles. They are good when doing chainsaw work, chipping, riveting, and grinding. If you wear prescription glasses, most goggles will fit around them. Goggles are usually ventilated and can be treated with an antifog solution. They are also available in eyecup and wire mesh models. Goggles are inexpensive. Keep a pair next to each machine or work area where eye protection should be worn. If working with chemical liquids, be sure the goggles have off-set ventilation ports.

Face shields protect workers from heat, glare, and flying objects but they are only considered secondary protection and must be worn with either glasses or goggles. Face shields that attach to hard hats are available for jobs that also require head protection.

Welding generates strong ultraviolet and infrared rays that can permanently damage eyes and cause blindness. Welding helmets have special filtering lenses that protect eyes from these intense rays. They are also available in models that mount on a hard hat. Welding goggles with various filter lens shades protect against sparks, rays, and flying particles. Consult a dealer to determine the filter lens shade needed for the type of welding being done. Welding helmets and goggles are available with either stationary or lift-front lenses. Some helmets have ratchet-controlled headbands for proper fit and absorbent sweatbands for comfort.

Eye Protection Standards

Current ANSI/ISEA standards for eye protection are based upon identified hazards in the workplace. For example, eye protection requirements in dust and dust particle filled areas will be different than in metal working areas. Eyewear meeting the ANSI/ISEA standard is marked with the manufacturer's name and Z87 as recognition that the frames and lens housing components have met testing standards. Basic impact lenses will be designated Z87, while high impact lenses will carry a Z87+ designation. The safety glass, the frame components and accessories are all subject to these rigorous tests. Protection of soft tissues surrounding the eye itself is considered in the Standard.

Additionally, consider these recommendations from the American Academy of Opthalmology (AAO):

  • Protective eyewear should include side protection unless there is no possible chance of injury from side impact, splashes or sparks.
  • Always put on protective eyewear before entering an area where hazards may be present.
  • Eye protection must fit properly and comfortably, including when worn over prescription eyeglasses.
  • Protective eyewear should be regularly checked for damage and replaced if there is any defect.
  • When in doubt, assume that eye hazards are present.

The AAO estimates that 90% of all eye injuries are preventable by using protective eyewear.

Note: Sharing protective eyewear increases the risk of exposure to contagious eye disease.

Sunglasses are generally not to be considered as eye protection from flying objects, but should be considered for use in brightly lighted work areas (outdoors, field work, etc.). Sunglass use reduces the outdoor worker's exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Prolonged and intense exposure to bright lighting can lead to macular degeneration, an eyesight loss condition which worsens with age. Sunglasses are rated for their capability to block or absorb UV radiation. A UV rating of 100 is preferred. Merely seeing the sunglasses labeled with the word "protection" does not indicate the UV blocking or absorbing value of the sunglasses. Sunglasses are classified as Normal Use (minimal outdoor exposure) and Prolonged Exposure Use (long exposure with outdoor work, and recreation). Be sure to use the appropriate sunglasses for the exposure level you will encounter. There is a Standard for Nonprescription Sunglasses and Fashion Eyewear and it is designated Z80.3. Higher priced sunglasses may not have a Z80.3 designation and a high price does not indicate that the sunglasses have been rated for UV reduction.

First Aid for Eye Injuries

The chart below summarizes what to do--and what not to do--to properly treat an eye injury.

InjuryWhat not to doProper treatment
Foreign particle in the eyeDo not rub the eyes. Rubbing can scratch the eye or embed the object.Flush eye with water until object rinses out. If this doesn't work, bandage both eyes loosely and seek medical attention.
Object embedded in the eyeDo not try to remove the object.Bandage both eyes loosely and seek medical attention.
Cut near the eyeDo not rub, press, or wash the cut which may cause further damage.Bandage both eyes loosely and seek medical attention.
Bump or bruise near the eyeApply a cold compress for 15 minutes to reduce swelling. Seek medical attention.
Welding arc burnKeep eyes closed and seek medical attention. Note: Victim may not feel pain right away. Four to 12 hours later, eyes may be sensitive to light or may be red and swollen.

Maintenance of Protective Eyewear

Protective eyewear should be cleaned regularly in warm, soapy water. Looking through dirty lenses puts unnecessary strain on the eyes. Clean and dry lenses with a soft tissue to avoid scratching. Also inspect eyewear regularly for damage. Look for deep scratches or pitting that may weaken lenses. Replace elastic goggle headbands when they become stretched. When not in use, store eyewear in a rigid case to prevent dust buildup and accidental damaging of delicate parts, such as frames and nose pads. Don't just throw the safety glasses down in a dirty, gritty area.

Have eyes examined regularly to determine if you need prescription safety glasses or a stronger prescription. Contact wearers should always wear protective eyewear in hazardous environments. In general, contact lenses are not recommended because they may trap particles in the eye, posing additional risks to the wearer; this is especially true in dusty environments.

Protective Footwear

Foot injuries to the farm worker can occur from animals stepping on the feet, heavy objects dropping on the feet, and sharp objects penetrating the shoe. Safety footwear is available in a variety of popular styles, such as dress shoes, tennis shoes, hiking boots, cowboy boots, and loafers--both for men and women. Manufacturers have made safety shoes lighter in weight with cushioned insoles and arch supports. Safety pac boots, chore boots, and work boots are available for those areas where dampness is usually found.

Safety shoes usually have much more than just a steel-toe cap for protection. Steel shanks help distribute weight more evenly, providing support during such tasks as climbing a ladder. Metatarsal guards either fit over the top of the shoe or are built into the shoe to protect the top of the foot. Steel midsoles, either built-in or slip-in, protect against punctures and bone bruises from nails, glass, barbs, and stones. Slip-resistant soles help prevent falls in wet barns and on muddy ground. For winter, slip-in felt liners are available for most styles of boots.

Standards for Safety Footwear

American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) establishes performance requirements for protective footwear. Impact resistance and compression resistance standards are set, as well as electric shock protection, and cut and puncture resistance. Protective footwear must be marked with the ASTM standard designation, ASTM F2413-05. Further designation as to gender of the user {M (male) or F (female)} is shown. Impact resistance rating (I) must be shown (75 or 50 foot-pounds) plus the compression resistance rating (C) of 75 or 50 which correlates to 2500 lbs. and 1750 pounds of compression, respectively. Metatarsal rating (Mt) of 75 or 50 foot-pounds may be followed by designations for conductive properties (Cd), electrical insulation properties (EH), dielectric insulation (DI),static dissipative protection (SD), puncture resistance (PR) and chain saw cut resistance (CS). The best protection is provided by the highest rated shoe, but even the lowest rated shoe offers substantially more protection than any non-rated shoe.

Add-on devices such as strap-on hard toes, or toe or metatarsal guards as a substitute for protective footwear, are not permitted under ASTM standards, but may meet OSHA regulations.


Employers must be aware that protective equipment must be available for employee use. Employers must be sure that each employee uses the protective equipment. Protective headwear, eyewear and footwear are generally inexpensive compared to the potential economic impact of head, eye, and foot injury. Though protective footwear is more expensive, it is by nature very durable and a worthwhile investment to protect the feet. Be sure that hard hats, safety glasses and safety footwear are approved for the hazards that will be encountered. Look for the ANSI/ISEA or ASTM designation on protective equipment. This designation means that the manufacturer has gone the extra mile to be sure the product performs well. OSHA regulations will refer to these Standards. A non-labeled eyewear product may not meet the need you have for eye protection.


  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Standards, Section 1910.1 -1910.6, Washington, DC.
  2. American National Standard Institute and International Safety Equipment Association, 2009, ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009 - American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection, New York, NY.
  3. International Safety Equipment Association, 2010, ANSI/ISEA 107-2010 - American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Headwear, Arlington, VA.
  4. American Society of Testing Materials, 2011, ASTM F2412-11, Standard Test Methods for Foot Protection, West Conshohocken, PA.
  5. The Pennsylvania State University, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, Agricultural Safety and Health Program, (Fact Sheets, Demonstrations, Models, Simulations), University Park, PA.

Dennis J. Murphy, Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and William C. Harshman, Research Assistant