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Surviving farm accidents: A call to action

Safety factors  should be a priority for all farm activities Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the US but many accidents  can be prevented with proper attention and training
<p>Safety factors should be a priority for all farm activities. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., but many accidents can be prevented with proper attention and training.</p>
Farm work can be dangerous and safety training should be a priority. Annually, more lives are lost in the agricultural industry than in the mining and construction industries combined.

Tom Clarney, a 60 year old dairy farmer, was killed when his head was caught in a cattle feeding machine on an early October morning.

A couple of years later, 71 year old Afton Clements died on his farm after a stock shredder he was working on fell and crushed him to death. The shredder was in a raised position and held in place by hydraulics, which unexpectedly failed because of an oil leak. Clements was set to celebrate his 72nd birthday the following day.

Albert Mosley was working in the field attempting to free a cultivator stuck in the mud when a chain hooked to the equipment broke without warning, causing the chain to whip around and catch the farmer on the side of the head. He was killed immediately.

A 17-year-old farm worker died when he became trapped in a round baler that caught fire. The young man was alone, baling dried wheat straw for hay when the baler became jammed, and the clutch temporarily shut down the power take-off device. While attempting to free the jam, the worker's leg became trapped, a fire broke out and he perished in the accident.

While the names have been changed to protect the privacy of the victims’ families, these farm-related accidents actually occurred in the not-too-distant-past, tragic ends to men young and old who had no hint that their day would take a most terrible turn when they started out for work that morning. In a blink of an eye, a normal day quickly turned into a horrible ending.

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Electrocutions, tractor rollovers, suffocation, deadly fumes, grain elevator mishaps -- these are but a few of the fatal accidents that can and do happen on the farm, making farming one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

The truth is, just about everyone knows about the dangers. Annually, more lives are lost in the agricultural industry than in the mining and construction industries combined. For over a decade, farm-related accidental-deaths have led the world as the number one source of worker-related injuries and deaths.

But in spite of it all, most farmers and farm workers talk little about the risks, and according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), they spend too little time avoiding accidents before they happen.

Accidents happen, and are impossible to eliminate completely, but farm safety specialists tell us that a vast majority of work-related deaths can and should be avoided. Complacency-- the familiarity with the "work-at-hand"—is often cited as the number one reason accidents happen.  Workers  may have with a false sense of security.

Tractor accidents alone claim about 125 lives a year in the U.S., representing the number one danger on a farm, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). But it is not the only kind of equipment accident that claims lives. Combines, choppers and hay balers bring their own brand of danger, as does the use of hazardous chemicals on the farm.

Whether we like to hear it or not, farm accidents are very real, and can be deadly.


Regardless how well we plan for farm safety, some accidents are going to happen. But the key to minimizing these accidents is awareness. While the risks are high, the amount of time spent addressing these risks is relatively low, and, according to farm safety experts, this is how farmers and farm workers become complacent.

Citing one of the most common mistakes when it comes to tractor accidents, safety specialists say many of the lives lost in such accidents could have been prevented had the driver of the tractor taken the time to fasten the seat belt.

Perhaps worse of all, complacency by a farmer or farm worker is often spread to younger farm workers. Statistics indicate almost 20 percent of farm-related deaths happen to farm workers under the age of 20. Perhaps even more startling, 19 U.S. workers under the age of 16 died in a workplace environment representing the number one danger on a farm, and 16 of them died on a farm or ranch.

OSHA has spent many years trying to determine why so many accidents on the farm and in other industries end in tragedy. But after years of research the number one common denominator has turned out to be something common and simple—distractions. Just like our reluctance to spend more time participating in farm safety education and workshops, farmers and farm workers are often just too busy to stay focused on danger.

Those who work on the farm are reminded that plenty of opportunities are available each year to reconnect with safety issues. Farm safety workshops from Extension, government-sponsored specialty workshops and private enterprise training, should be high on the list for everyone who works in agriculture.


In South Texas, Nueces County Extension Agent for Agriculture Jason Ott says worker safety is the very reason his office sponsors multiple safety training sessions every year, such as the upcoming farm safety short course set for Sat., Dec. 10 at the Johnny Calderon Building in Robstown.

The workshop will address important safety considerations while operating a tractor and preventive maintenance. Working with hydraulics, PTOs, and folding equipment will also be topics of discussion. 

Dr. Douglas Kingman, Instructional Associate Professor of Agricultural Systems Management at Texas A&M University–College Station will be the featured presenter for the workshop. In addition to some of the in class presentations, participants will also have an opportunity to operate several pieces of equipment on a driver practice course. South Texas farmers and farm workers can attend the safety workshop at no charge, but seating is limited, so attendees are asked to RSVP to the AgriLife Extension office in Nueces County at 361-767-5223 by December 5.

Similar workshops are being offered all across Texas in Dec. and Jan. and farmers are encouraged to contact their county extension agent for workshops available in their area.

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