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Despite progress, farming still dangerous

This is a busy time of year for Arkansas farmers as they harvest crops. It's also a dangerous time for farmers and motorists in rural areas.

Farming continues to be one of several dangerous occupations, along with mining and construction. To emphasize the dangers, the National Safety Council designated Sept. 19-24 as National Farm Safety Week. In Arkansas, on average, 15 deaths are attributed to farming-related accidents annually. Many more are injured.

“We've made some progress over the last decade or two in farm safety,” says Gary Huitink, Extension engineer. “We see fewer injuries and deaths, but serious accidents continue to occur every year.”

Huitink says the major types of farm accidents in Arkansas are: being run over by a tractor or other equipment, being entangled in machinery, tractor or other vehicle overturns and traffic collisions.

The latter category involves collisions between motorists and farm equipment. Farmers are moving harvesting equipment, grain trucks and grain carts from field to field at this time of year on highways and county roads.

“The category of collisions with farm equipment seems to be growing,” says Huitink. “There's heavier traffic on roads with motorists encountering large, slow-moving farm equipment that can affect road visibility.

“Oftentimes, I think motorists aren't aware how slow the equipment is moving. It's rarely moving more than 20 miles an hour. A motorist must be extra cautious in passing farm equipment. A brief delay is certainly not going to be as costly as an injury or hospitalization.”

For farmers, fatigue is a serious factor in accidents. During harvest, farmers work from dawn to dark, or longer. Fatigue and complacency can cause farmers to let their guard down. They need to be alert to dangers, especially when equipment is running.

Entanglement injuries may involve spinning power shafts on tractors or other equipment or components of combines, cotton pickers, grain augers, posthole diggers, grain carts or hay balers.

“Always make sure you cut off power before you try to clear equipment or perform maintenance,” Huitink says. “Just over a month ago, a farmer was caught in a hay baler in south Arkansas.

“Farm workers and workers in general are quite aware of the dangers of spinning power shafts. Plus, equipment is made with covers. But if covers aren't maintained, a person's clothing or hair can easily become entangled, causing severe injuries.”

Huitink cautions farmers to operate equipment in a safe manner and be aware that children might dart out in front of them. Bystanders should stay away from construction, logging and farm equipment.

Injuries and deaths from equipment that overturns are declining, but farmers still need to use caution. Seatbelts and rollover protective structures help safeguard farmers and workers, Huitink says, “but the seatbelt still has to be fastened to make it effective. Any farm equipment is powerful and can cause a lifetime injury.”

Farmers should warn workers of possible dangers related to farm equipment, he says.

The Extension service and the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation provide teaching aids and conduct programs around the state for farmers and rural rescue workers. For more information about farm safety:

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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