Agriculture, forestry, and fishing attract people who enjoy working with animals, living an independent lifestyle, or working outdoors on the land. For many, the wide-open physical expanse, the variability of day-to-day work, and the rural setting provide benefits that offset the sometimes hard labor, the danger and the risks associated with unseasonable or extreme weather or unfavorable commodity prices.
Although the working conditions vary by occupation and setting, there are some characteristics common to most agriculture, forestry and fishing jobs. Work hours generally vary and the jobs often require longer than an 8-hour day and a 5-day, 40-hour week; work cannot be delayed when crops must be planted and harvested, or when animals must be sheltered and fed. Weekend work is common, and farmers, agricultural managers, crew leaders, farm-equipment operators, and agricultural workers may work a 6- or 7-day week during planting and harvesting seasons. Graders and sorters may work evenings or weekends because of the perishable nature of the products. Almost 1 out of 4 employees in this industry work variable schedules, compared with fewer than 1 in 10 workers in all industries combined. Because much of the work is seasonal in nature, many farmworkers must cope with periods of unemployment or obtain short-term jobs in other industries when the farms have no work. Migrant farmworkers, who move from location to location to harvest crops as they ripen, live an unsettled lifestyle, which can be stressful.
Much of the work on farms and ranches takes place outdoors, in all kinds of weather, and is physical in nature. Harvesting some types of vegetables, for example, requires manual labor and workers do a lot of bending, stooping, and lifting. Living conditions are often modest, although there are regulations to assure minimum standards. The year-round nature of much livestock production work means that ranch workers must be out in the heat of summer, as well as the cold of winter. Those who work directly with animals risk being bitten or kicked.
Farmers, farm managers, and agricultural workers in crop production risk exposure to pesticides and other potentially hazardous chemicals that are sprayed on crops or plants. Those who work on mechanized farms must take precautions when working with tools and heavy equipment in order to avoid injury
Forestry and logging jobs are physically demanding and often dangerous, although machinery has eliminated some of the heavy labor. Most logging occupations involve lifting, climbing, and other strenuous activities. Loggers work under unusually hazardous conditions. Falling trees and branches are a constant menace, as are the dangers associated with log-handling operations and the use of sawing equipment, especially delimbing devices. Special care must be taken during strong winds, which can even halt operations. Slippery or muddy ground and hidden roots or vines not only reduce efficiency but also present a constant danger, especially in the presence of moving vehicles and machinery. Workers may encounter poisonous plants, brambles, insects, snakes, and heat and humidity. If safety precautions are not taken, the high noise level of sawing and skidding operations over long periods may impair hearing. If workers are to avoid injury, their experience, exercise of caution, and use of proper safety measures and equipment-such as hardhats, eye and ear protection, and safety clothing and boots-are extremely important.
Logging sites are often far from population centers and require long commutes. Some lumber companies set up bunkhouses or camps for employees to stay in overnight.
Fishing operations are conducted under various environmental conditions, depending on the region of the country and the kind of species sought. Storms, fog, and wind may hamper the work of fishing vessels. People employed in fishing work under conditions that can quickly turn from pleasant to wet and hazardous, and help is often not readily available. Work must be performed on decks that are wet and slippery as the result of fish processing operations or ice formation in the winter. Workers must be constantly on guard against entanglement in fishing nets and gear, sudden breakage or malfunction of fishing gear, or being swept overboard. Malfunctioning navigation or communication equipment may lead to collisions with underwater hazards or other vessels and even shipwrecks. Also, when injuries occur, medical treatment beyond simple first aid usually is not available until the vessel can reach port.
Most workers employed in fishing return to their homes every evening. However, workers on vessels that range far from port may be at sea for days or even weeks. While newer vessels of this type have improved living quarters and amenities, such as television and shower stalls, crews still experience the aggravations of confined conditions, continuous close personal contact, and the absence of family.
Some component industries making up agriculture, forestry, and fishing have some of the highest incidences of illnesses and injuries of any industry. In 2002, the overall industry had 6.4 injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers, compared with an average of 5.3 throughout private industry. Those working with livestock had significantly higher incidences of work-related illness and injury than those working with crops.