Hurry, impatience top reasons for farm accidents

Hurry and impatience are the biggest two factors in making farming the most dangerous occupation in the nation, according to Marion County leaders.

As the summer season winds down and fall harvest approaches, “everybody’s thinking you have to get out there, get it done when it’s ready, get it as fast as possible,” said Rickey Roberts, Marion County extension agent.

Considering that 45 percent of all farm deaths in the United States are tractor-related, according to extension service materials provided by Roberts, a farmer needs to take the time to do the little things right.

Of that 45 percent, experts estimated 55 percent of the deaths wouldn’t have happened had tractors been equipped with rollover protection, either a rollbar on an open tractor, or a cab with it built-in.

Some of precautions are as simple as never starting a tractor from the ground because you’re trying to do too many things in a hurry. Always start it from the driver’s seat, he said.

Add to this the general impatience of the population, and you have a potentially deadly mix when slow-moving farm equipment and high-speed highway traffic share roadways at the same time, said Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker.

Becker advised farmers to always have “slow-moving signs” in place, and to make sure all light signals are working before taking to the roadways.

“People just seem to be very impatient,” Becker said. “Hopefully, motor-vehicle drivers will slow down, and understand that farmers have to be able to get to their fields. They need to slow down, and take the time to pass the farm equipment safely.

“They need to give farmers courtesy, and farmers need to give them courtesy, too. Rudeness doesn’t help, but simple courtesy will.

“We haven’t had any motor vehicle/tractor accidents this year, but we haven’t had any alcohol-related fatality accidents either. Both things happen.”

Becker recommended that farmers carry cell phones, or some other mobile phone they can connect to a power source. Doing so will enable them to call 911 in an emergency, whether they are on the roads or isolated from other people working in the middle of a field.

Away from the highways, Becker said the county and state have accident problems with automobiles and farm equipment meeting on gravel and dirt roads.

The situation is exasperated, he said, by motorists traveling highway speeds of 50 mph and faster on the back roads, numerous access points from fields and roads from which farm equipment may enter, and poor visibility in dry weather because of dust.

That vehicles have hit Marion County road graders three times this year illustrates the point, he said, because farm equipment is larger, heavier and slower, just like the road graders.

Becker reminded motorists who think they can tell if something is approaching the top of hill because of dust being raised that tractors and other large equipment typically don’t raise much dust because they travel so slowly.

Farmers trying to move farm equipment to the side to allow a motorist to pass may encounter holes or cave-ins on the road shoulder, or poor visibility of where to place wheels because of tall vegetation.

Motorists need to allow the farm equipment time to get over, Becker said.

The automobile has a likelihood of suffering the most damage in a collision with heavy equipment, he added.

Of the 17 motor Marion County vehicle accidents in 2002 and 2003 identified by the sheriff’s office as farm related, 12 were collisions with livestock, 11 involved cattle and one involved a horse.

Becker said farmers normally are “very good” about keeping their animals within fenced areas, or promptly coming to get them if they get out. But motor-vehicle drivers need to stay alert to the possibility that animals will be on roadways.

In several accident reports, cattle were moving on to the roadway. But in some, the cattle were standing in the roadway, and the motorist ran into them. Motorists should approach loose cattle slowly, and realize loose animals may move unpredictably and suddenly, he said.

When it comes to cattle, impatience and hurrying often come into play in the accidents where a tractor or all-terrain vehicle is used to herd livestock, Roberts said.

Among the many things on safety checklists provided by Roberts, a prominent item is proper shields to prevent an accident where an exposed piece of running equipment can grab something like a pant leg to pull a victim into the machinery.

Power take-offs and augers are equipment that needs shields. A typical PTO operates at nine revolutions per second and the average human reaction time is 0.75 seconds. That means, a PTO can make six revolutions before a person realizes what’s happening.

That’s plenty of time to be wrapped up, killed or maimed.

Roberts’ literature said farmers should take note of “pinch points” on machinery-which is any point where two machine parts move toward each other, and at least one of them is rotating.

If these pinch points-such as chains, belts, gears or feed rolls-are exposed, a farmer probably needs to take note and get them shielded. Possible machines could include everything from combines to grain elevators.

Besides making sure all equipment is in good working order, Roberts’ literature emphasizes taking time to do things that may seem small-such as setting tractor wheels to the widest setting possible because the broader the wheelbase, the less likely the tractor is to turn over.

Farmers should take time to check tire inflation. The literature told of a farmer who kept sliding from a roadway while trying to mow the shoulder only to realize he had a low tire he hadn’t checked before starting.

Hurry is blamed for another type of accident that has become too common on farms-ammonia spills from anhydrous tanks. Those kind of mishaps can destroy eyes with little chance of repair, and cause horrible burns that are harder to treat than burns from fires and acids.

Where typical burns seal off a wound, anhydrous ammonia keeps eating into the flesh as it seeks water, turning tissues into “sticky goo,” according to the literature.

The dangerous inattention usually happens when farm operators are connecting and disconnecting tanks and applicators, a procedure where precisely the right sequence of opening and closing valves must be followed.

Farmers sometime develop dangerous habits to try to speed things along. An example given was a man in north-central Kansas who developed a habit of shaking a filler hose as he bled a valve, loosening the hose connection a couple of turns to speed things up.

One day the pressure caused the loosened hose to disconnect completely, spewing out ammonia that caused second-degree burns to his arms and upper body.

But the injuries kept the farmer off the job for only one year. Today, that farmer follows the proper sequence, wears rubber gloves, goggles and long sleeves to apply anhydrous.

Becker has called attention several times to the fact that crime also is affecting the use of anhydrous ammonia. Operators may need to check fittings left overnight to make sure thieves who use the substance for methamphetamine drug production haven’t messed with them.

Both the local experts and the literature repeatedly emphasize the importance of taking time to prevent accidents before they happen.

And remember to take the time to be patient and courteous for safety’s sake in all the pressing, seasonal work farmers must do.

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