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Farm accidents frustrate nation's safety experts

The first half of 2000 has proved deadly for Mississippi's farms. According to Herb Willcutt, farm safety specialist at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss., there were eight tractor or agricultural machinery-related deaths in the state during the first six months of 2000. Six of these fatal accidents involved farm ponds in some way.

In addition to the tragic loss of eight adults in tractor-related accidents, and after a year with no farm-related fatalities among children under the age of 16, farming accidents have claimed the lives of two Mississippi youths this year.

In June, a Delta teenager was killed while helping his family check well pumps on their rice farm. The 13-year-old boy was reportedly electrocuted by a well pump when he either turned the pump on or off.

According to the county coroner investigating the incident, a mouse apparently chewed on a wire that leaned against the metal part of the box, dangerously shorting out the electric well pump.

A few weeks later, an 11-year-old Mississippian was hit by a hay trailer after falling from the back of the truck pulling the trailer. "The youth was seemingly unhurt until he lapsed into a coma, was taken to the hospital, and pronounced dead a short time later," says Willcutt.

Nationally, about 100 children younger than 20 years of age die of agricultural injuries on farms and ranches each year, with about one-half of these fatalities involving tractors. Another 33,000 children are injured each year in farming-related accidents in the United States, according to the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.

In Mississippi, about a dozen people are killed each year in farming-related accidents. "Typically, we have 10 to 16 machinery-related deaths each year in Mississippi, with 45 percent of those involving tractor roll-overs. A majority of the time the tractors involved in fatal accidents are not equipped with a roll-over protective safety structure (ROPS) and a seat belt was not worn," says Willcutt.

Tractor deaths in Mississippi account for more than 13 percent of all farm-related accidents. Of these, 45 percent are caused by roll-overs, 18 percent are run-overs, 10 percent are caused by rotary cutters or disks, and 6 percent are wrecks with automobiles. Agricultural accidents are also caused by fire, animals, hand and power tools, drownings, falls and electrocutions.

Most of these farm accidents occur between the hours of either noon to 4 p.m. or 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The average farming accident usually involves a part-time farmer or rural resident and, in many cases, can be at least partly attributed to fatigue. "Often inexperienced operators are in a hurry and may be using older equipment that is poorly maintained and lacking safety equipment," Willcutt says.

"Some work can be monotonous and fatiguing, but not paying attention to your work can lead to accidents. Always realize that an arm, a leg, an eye, or even a life may be lost if you are not careful," he says.

The number of traumatic farm injuries involving very young children is frustrating to farm safety experts like Barbara Lee, director of the National Farm Medicine Center. "Having met with parents who have lost a child as a result of a farm injury, it is evident there can be long-term, negative consequences for the family. And as safety professionals, we often feel ineffective. We want to console parents on the loss of a child, but we cannot condone some of the decisions, such as allowing children on tractors, that may have led up to that death."

Nancy Brehm, agricultural safety specialist at the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, offers the following tips to keeping young children safe on farms:

- Set up an area where children can play well-supervised away from the work site, with a physical barrier between play areas and work areas

- Always be aware that your children are continually changing in their growth and development.

- Be especially aware of young children during "crunch times" around the farm, such as harvest season.

The National Committee for Children Agricultural Injury Prevention has established guidelines for children living, or working on the farm.

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