By Stan Maddux
In less than two weeks and within 100 miles, two southern Michigan farmers were killed after getting entangled in augers, creating an additional emphasis on farm safety.
Rex Hannewald, 63, was pulled into the auger of a manure spreader March 20 on Territorial Road in Waterloo Township about 30 miles west of Ann Arbor, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
Undersheriff Chris Kuhl says Hannewald was in the field with the manure spreader he had been working on for the past several days.
Hannewald was discovered by his wife late in the evening after she returned from running errands.
‘’His body was in the actual auger mechanism of the device,’’ Kuhl says.
Investigators were not able to determine exactly how the man got caught by the auger.
Jacob Fruchey, 42, had a piece of clothing grabbed by an auger he was using to drill holes March 11 in Montcalm Township, about 40 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, according to the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office.
The auger and tractor were still running when Fruchey was discovered by his wife about 7 p.m., according to police.
Fruchey was drilling holes in the ground near a sheep barn to relieve flooding from melting snow.
Take safety seriously
Debra Chester, a farm safety expert at Michigan State University, says even the most experienced farmer should never take safety for granted while operating any piece of machinery.
Chester says most fatalities involving augers or the PTO shafts turning the augers are from working on the machine while it’s still running.
That work could be anything from unclogging a fertilizer spreader, removing dirt causing a PTO shaft to not spin as fast and repositioning an auger away from rocks the blade struck beneath the soil.
She says turning off the machine before correcting a situation eliminates any chance of a frayed or loose piece of clothing getting snagged by a spinning auger or shaft and pulling that person into the machine.
Shirt sleeves and pants too long or baggy along with the strings on a hooded sweatshirt are susceptible to being grabbed by a spinning auger or shaft.
‘’Your arm itself might not be as close to the auger as you think, but the clothing is, and that can get caught up,’’ Chester says.
People not pulled into the blades also can be squeezed from the tightening of the fabric by a still-running machine.
‘’It can tighten around someone’s neck,” Chester says. “It can cause compression around the chest, so they can’t breathe. That’s how they wind up being fatally injured.”
Necklaces and rings also can get caught by a moving machine part, and so can long hair.
It’s best to keep long hair back or under a cap, Chester says.
Farmers also should make sure the shafts turning an auger or any other device are properly guarded to prevent any sort of human contact, she advises.
The only hope, perhaps, for a person with clothing wrapped around a shaft is the fabric tearing while it’s tightening.
There’s no time to remove a shirt or a coat wrapped in a shaft turning at a minimum 540 revolutions per minute, Chester says.
‘’I have not personally heard any stories that someone survived because they were able to take the clothing off,” she says. “What has happened is they survived because the clothing was ripped from their body.”
Chester says 100 percent cotton fabric has a better chance of tearing than polyester, which is stronger and more flexible.
Augers don’t turn as fast, but serious injury or death also can result.
Other causes of entanglement include falling into a machine from getting bumped from behind by an animal roaming nearby, becoming dizzy or sleepy from medication, and a heart attack or some other medical episode.
‘’They’re not going to become entangled if the machine is not operating,” Chester says. “It’s only if it’s operating.”
According to MSU, there were 19 farm-related fatalities in Michigan during 2017, including one person whose clothing became entangled from reaching into a corn picker.
Five of the deaths were ruled self-inflicted, according to MSU.
Maddux writes from New Buffalo, Mich.