LaMar Grafft prefers to call what happened to Hyde County, N.C., farmer Demock Mann two years ago in his grain bin an “injury incident” rather than an accident because it could have been prevented with precautions in place.
“In the safety field, we don’t like to use the phrase ‘an accident’ because that tells you it couldn’t have been prevented. With safety protocols in place, what happened to Demock could have been prevented,” explains Grafft, associate director of the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute in Greenville.
Two years ago, on Feb. 27, 2019, Mann was with his brothers Tyler Mann and Walter Mann and other workers loading corn into their grain bin on their farm in Fairfield in Hyde County. Tyler was in the grain bin with Demock when the sweep auger moved, caught his pant leg, and cut deep into Demock’s leg, trapping him.
The good news is that Demock’s leg was saved and he is able to walk and continue to work on the family farm. EMS was quick to respond and Demock was rushed to Vidant Medical Center where he received excellent care.
Grafft says there are many important lessons learned from Demock’s injury incident. Grafft says the good news is Demock learned from the incident and he, his family and employees are now taking precautions to ensure a similar incident won’t occur again.
“Demock has been really open with us and with other people to talk about his incident and explain what happened. It’s real tough when you are a farmer and your livelihood depends on you getting things done as quickly as you can. I farmed until I was 35 in Iowa. I recognize farmers are driven to get as many things done as they can,” Grafft says.
In essence, Grafft says farmers often get caught up in the moment to get work done and don’t always think about safety. He says Demock’s incident illustrates the point. He says safety protocols should have been in place.
“OSHA regulations allow someone to be in the grain bin with the sweep auger running, but there are some requirements for that. You have to be behind the auger so it would be moving away from you and you have to be at least seven feet away from it and it has to have some kind of a stop on it so that as soon as it comes back around and makes one revolution, there is some kind of mechanical stop that keeps it from going around again so it can’t come behind and catch you,” Grafft explains.
“You either have to have a dead man switch in your hand where you can immediately cut off the auger or there has to be somebody on the outside looking in the grain bin watching what is occurring with a switch right there in their hand where they can immediately cut the auger off,” he adds.
Grafft makes it clear that even though OSHA rules weren’t being followed on the Mann farm the day of the incident, that doesn’t mean OSHA could have come onto the farm and fine them because they don’t have enough employees to fall under OSHA regulations. But Grafft says the OSHA regulations still provide good guidelines to follow.
Grafft acknowledges it was a tough situation for the Mann family because the auger isn’t designed to cut on and off on its own and it malfunctioned. Grafft did point out the Manns had a difficult time getting the dealer to come out and service the grain bin equipment and correct the problem.
“If you can’t get people to come out and take a look at it and you have corn that needs to be moved, well, you’re going to be in there moving corn. I fully understand that,” Grafft says.
In Demock’s case, Grafft says the grain bin equipment should have been repaired before Demock went in the gain bin, or Demock should have been on the backside of the auger when it started running. He says Demock or another worker should have had a dead man’s switch to immediately stop the auger. He does credit Demock’s brother for immediately turning the auger off.
LaMar Grafft (North Carolina Agromedicine Institute)
Grafft says he hopes Demock’s incident raises awareness that the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute is here to help. The North Carolina Agromedicine Institute is a consortium of East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T University. It is housed at ECU and provides safety and health programs for farmers, foresters and fishermen, their families, and workers across the state.
Grafft is an internationally recognized expert on farm safety and grain bin safety. He teaches a 12-hour grain rescue course to farmers, fire departments and other personnel. He has been with the institute since 2014. Prior to coming to North Carolina, he ran a safety consulting business in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and worked for the University of Iowa as a farm safety specialist. He was also a paramedic and flight paramedic, and has seen a lot of farm injuries.
“We are available. People can text us. People can call us. People can send us an email. People can ask us to come out and take a look. We’re non-regulatory. I do talk with OSHA. They do sometimes call me and want my opinion on what they’ve seen. I don’t ever tell them what I saw on anyone’s farm other than to say I saw this the other day, but I never tell them where the farm is or who the farmer is or anything like that, “Grafft explains.
“We have a real good relationship with our farmers. We don’t’ want them ever to get the idea we would ever turn them in for whatever they are doing on the farm. We may strongly urge them to make changes, but I would never call OSHA or anyone else to go out there and have a look,” he emphasizes.
In all of his presentations, Grafft says he understands the stress and challenge of farming. He was a sixth-generation farmer just east of Cedar Rapids, but the family lost the place in 1986 during the 1980s farm recession.
He emphasizes the mental health services the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute offers are among the most important because of the stressful nature of farming. He says the institute is here to offer help and not criticize.
“If you invite us to your farm, we are happy to come there usually at no cost to you. We do the best we can to provide information and services to make things healthier and safer for you, your family, and your workers. If we see things we think you need to stop doing, we’ll tell you, but we don’t turn you into somebody to come out and give you a fine. You can make the change or not make the change. It’s totally up to you as the farmer,” Grafft says.