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NOT WORTH RISK: Entering a bin to unplug grain while the unloading auger is running isn’t worth the risk, experts insist.

‘Think safety’ must be more than slogan

Just because you’ve always done something without incident isn’t a reason to keep doing it.

Word of a tragic accident in Hamilton County, Ind., spread quickly. A former star athlete was killed. He apparently attempted to climb onto a moving combine, missed a step and was run over.

Sympathy is heartfelt for the family. Hopefully, it reminded everyone else working in agriculture that farming is truly dangerous, and you must constantly be on guard.

It hit home with me a couple of weeks later when I rode with a farmer in his combine. Starting down the ladder, I commented that someone my age must be careful climbing down those things. The Hamilton County incident came up. Based on the farmer’s comments, it dawned on me that jumping onto a moving combine might not be so uncommon after all.

“You surely wouldn’t do it after what happened, would you?” I asked him. No answer.

My mind flashed back roughly 20 years. A well-respected farmer died inside a grain bin. He went inside to break a plug free, and left the auger running. That breaks all safety rules for working around grain bins.

Rest of the story

What I remember most vividly was standing in line at his viewing, with the line snaking into the parking lot. Another farmer I knew came up behind me. We began talking about how tragic a loss it was for everyone.

“Well, sometimes you don’t have a choice — you just have to get in there,” the farmer said.

What? Did I hear him right? He would still go in a grain bin with the auger running if he had to? After what just happened to his neighbor? Did he realize where he was standing, and what he was saying? I was too shocked to respond. He changed the subject.

But I’ve never forgotten it. Yes, maybe it takes more time to wait until the combine stops to climb aboard, and yes, you’re trying to get the field finished before it rains. Yes, it may mean taking more precautions to deal with a plugged auger versus jumping in the bin.

Yet have you ever stopped to think about the consequences? Even if you’ve done one of these things or something equally dangerous a hundred times without incident, what about the 101st time? Will your luck run out? Is it worth finding out?

Proper perspective

Bill Field, Purdue University Extension ag engineer and farm safety specialist, recently talked to Darrell Boone, a contributing editor to Indiana Prairie Farmer, about safety around manure pits.

“I’ve probably been on more sites where people have died in manure pits than anyone else in the world,” said Field, who is frequently called on to reconstruct accident scenarios and provide expert testimony at hearings. “Several of those have involved multiple deaths, which is really sad. And many times, they result in major litigation.”

What’s particularly tragic, Field told Boone, is that almost all those accidents could have been prevented by being aware of the dangers, taking appropriate precautions and using common sense.

“I had one case where a farmer died because he entered a manure pit, trying to retrieve his John Deere cap,” Field said. “While I realize that farmers can be emotionally attached to their caps, you have to wonder if that was really worth it.”

Well said, Bill. Let’s all commit to “thinking safety” and being careful out there!

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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