Don't chance it

Last fall, an elderly woman from Kirksville, Mo., was injured in a tractor accident. She was standing in front of the back tires when her husband tried to start the tractor. When the ignition finally engaged, she was crushed under a rear wheel.

Also last fall, a young farmworker was burned over more than half of his body while harvesting soybeans near Wichita, Kan. He was trying to put out a fire caused when an auger boom hit a power line, and suffered burns when he touched the electrified grain cart. He lost both legs but survived.

In December, a Bloomfield, Mo., man lost his life while running a vacuum in a grain bin. He was buried when grain collapsed beneath him.

These are just three cases of farm accidents in our region in 2014. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We hope their stories will prompt you to take steps to prevent accidents on your farm.

Farming’s one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs

Agriculture ranks among the most hazardous of all industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 220 farmers, ranchers or other agricultural managers died in fatal work injuries in 2013. That’s a fatality rate of 22 people per 100,000 full-time workers.

The bureau ranked agriculture as the eighth most fatal occupation in 2013, behind logging, fishing, airline piloting and engineering, roofing, refuse collecting, mining, and truck and sales driving.

Most likely, farm fatalities are underreported, since the bureau doesn’t count fatalities for children 16 and under, and many children help out on family farms. Karen Funkenbusch, safety and health specialist at the University of Missouri, reports that on average, 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually in the U.S. from farm-related injuries, with most involving machinery and motor vehicles including ATVs.

That’s just fatalities. Many farm injuries also go unreported, according to a study by the University of California-Davis, in part because it’s difficult to count seasonal and part-time employees.

“Every day, about 167 agricultural workers suffer a lost-worktime injury in the U.S.,” says Funkenbusch. “In 2012, an estimated 2,700 youth were injured due to farm work.”

Beyond the dark statistics, you can find glimmers of hope. Farm fatality numbers are dropping, and most farm accidents can be prevented. A review of farm safety tips might help prevent future casualties.

How to prevent or handle common farm accidents

According to the National Ag Safety Database, these are among the most common types of farm accidents:

Tractor overturns. An overturned tractor may roll down a slope, or be unstable on level ground due to a hydraulic failure. Always approach a tractor from the uphill side; here you may be able to shut off the tractor and help the victim.

Power take-off accidents. During a PTO accident, always turn off the ignition key on the tractor and shut off the fuel on a diesel tractor. Do not disengage the PTO—when tension’s released, a PTO can move and cause added injury.

Electrocution. When someone’s electrocuted, first disconnect the power source. Never touch an electrocution victim unless the power’s off. Don’t try to drag the person to safety as you may also be electrocuted. If you can’t shut off the power source, after calling 911, immediately call the power company.

Grain bin accidents. It takes less than 15 seconds for someone to be buried in grain. When this happens, first turn off the auger. Use a rope to help them out if the grain only reaches up to their knees; if the grain’s higher, the rope can cause injury. Ventilation fans could help the victim get air, but vibrations could collapse a grain bridge.

Preventing grain entrapment accidents is a special concern for MFA Incorporated. In 2010, a record two dozen Americans died from grain entrapment. MFA worked with the University of Missouri Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute to fund a grain-engulfment rescue training simulator. MU takes the simulator on the road, visiting local firefighter rescue crews. The simulator includes a grain hopper, a grain bin and a station where people can learn proper techniques for rescue methods, including cutting grain bin panels to dump grain, enabling rescue (see Today’s Farmer, May 2015, p20).

Other crop-production related hazards include inhaling grain dust and mishandling agricultural chemicals, so be sure to read those chemical labels.

According to OSHA, injury rates for livestock workers are a bit higher than for crop producers. Funkenbusch points out that Missouri ranks second in the nation in cattle, fourth in turkeys, and in the top 10 for hogs and poultry. “Overall, 17 percent of all U.S. farm injuries involve animals,” she warned. Similar concerns hold true for Iowa, which is No. 1 in hogs; and Kansas, a top cattle feedlot state.

Here’s how to prevent hazards on livestock farms:

Manure storage facility poisonings. These facilities are listed on the National Ag Safety Database as one of the five most common places for farm accidents. Deadly gases can be present; never enter a pit without a self-contained breathing apparatus. Never lower a fan into the area for ventilation; sparks could cause methane to explode.

Livestock-related injuries. Take care to avoid being run over or trapped by livestock. Research safe pens and handling methods.

Falling loads. Renee Anthony of the University of Iowa College of Public Health reports that a lot of Iowa farmers were struck by falling bales last year. Besides loads falling from equipment, balancing loads when using skid steers can be tricky.

Oxygen-limiting silos. Fires and explosions are common in silos, so research how to stay safe in these situations.

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