National Farm Safety week is the focused reminder to farmers to heed safety issues. Those injured or killed while tending our fields and livestock bring real faces to the issue of safety. It’s something that consumers who purchase food never see and, for the most part, are blissfully unaware of. It’s been happening since horses, and power equipment makes the risk greater.
The average person can relate to the power of a car, perhaps a pickup truck. The power of large machinery on a typical farm can remove arms, legs and lives. It becomes personal when it’s someone you know. Whether an injury that is minor or life changing, or one that results in a death it’s tragic because so many are preventable.
A farmer in Ohio once had a farm worker remove the shield from the PTO shaft. The worker slipped and lost his leg in the resulting accident. An agriculture student working on a college farm was pushing to get the corn crop in when it jammed. In a hurry, he reached back and tugged the stalks without disengaging the power. When it cut loose his arm was in the machine along with the corn. He knew better, but at 19 his life was changed forever by a farming accident.
Even more tragic are the ones that result in deaths. It happens too often during the harvest season. Long days, longer nights, limited weather to get crops in and a push to get every dollar that can be made can mean exhaustion sets in.
A discussion among farmers brings many other accidents that could have been much worse. Alex chimed in with “(the) brake didn’t engage on 706 after engine was off, started rolling downhill, popped it in first to start the engine… and used the engine to slow the tractor down until the bottom of the hill, lesson, never park tractor for a few minutes on a hill.” Another told of nearly having a forklift pierce his foot – thankfully the ankle rolled and didn’t break – although badly bruised it could have been much worse.
Another commented farmers “must be careful with ladders/ lifting people in bucket-loaders too. Husband fell off a ladder just last night” while Laura added “I’ve always been afraid of flipping a tractor.”
These are very real dangers. On the farm dangers are many and include when the proper safety equipment isn’t used like PTO shields or even ear plugs around loud equipment and complacency. One farmer noted “around this stuff everyday and nothing goes wrong, but it only takes a second” while the Ohio farmer added “trust me, all the PTO shields stay on on our farm! We know what one mistake can do!”
There is additional danger with motorists on the roads in farm country that are unfamiliar with farm equipment. Some tips from farmers:
- Mike mentions “when approaching oncoming SMV (slow moving vehicle), don’t stop across from a mailbox! I can’t fit between you and a mailbox! Slowly, stay back far enough so I can see you in the mirrors, otherwise I don’t know you are there!”
- Another adds “Move over as far as you can! I’m bigger than you and can’t easily get a combine to the ditch.”
- An Illinois farmer says “Please don’t pass in guard rails. Pass slowly, we may not see you coming around if we are watching forward.”
- Never assume moving over isn’t swinging wide to turn.
- Leave plenty of room for loaded equipment which is much heavier than you think and cannot stop suddenly.
The equipment is not the only hazard. According to a Twitter post from OhioStateFSR: “26 fatalities occur on Ohio farms each year and of those 7-9 are grain engulfment related.” Farmers are killed every year by grain. Another serious issue is combine fires.
Not only in Farm Safety Month but every month farmers need to keep safe practices in mind.
Make sure equipment is stopped and safely secured before getting off. Check equipment and keep it maintained in good working condition to prevent malfunction and accidents, keep guards on those PTO shafts, lights maintained, have a wash sink in the shop and first aid kits stocked around the shop. Have fire extinguishers available and maintained.
As one farmer notes “Cell phones, Facebook and our ability to communicate thru technology have made (communication) easier, but I believe we work longer hours also.” This is particularly true when harvest can mean not only working all day but well into the night. Some farms run nearly 24/7 trying to get the harvest done, without people to work relief. After a certain point however the brain shuts down and farmers need to catch some sleep. Taking occasional breaks to stretch, a snack or meal even if it’s in the field with family can make a difference.
For some when an accident does happen farm neighbors rally around. Alex notes “it is amazing to see how a community helps others like the 14+ farmers that harvested a crop for a farmer in the hospital.”
For those who live near farm areas – please heed the advice of farmers and use extreme caution driving especially in harvest season. A motorcycle or small car stands no chance against a combine. For farmers – take the time to be safe. A few minutes can save a life!