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Safety on the farm requires patience, continued vigilance

The driver of this rig moved over slightly to allow room for a passing vehicle causing the full load of soybeans to shift and the truck to roll several times down into a deep ditch
<p>The driver of this rig moved over slightly to allow room for a passing vehicle, causing the full load of soybeans to shift and the truck to roll several times down into a deep ditch.</p>
&ldquo;It&rsquo;s really about knowing what the hazards are, and following through to make sure everybody knows the best options to avoid those hazards.&rdquo;

A long-time employee becomes entrapped in an auger. A tractor overturns on your teenage son. Your tractor-trailer crashes and rolls into a ditch on its way to the grain elevator.

In each case, time seemingly stops when that call to 911 begins. Preventing these tragedies also requires your time, safety experts say.

“It is okay to slow down,” says Jason Ward, assistant Extension professor in agricultural and biological engineering at Mississippi State University.

“This is the final push, and we are all ready to get paid. But slow down, be aware of approaching vehicles, and be sure to make eye contact with the equipment operators in your vicinity.”

Farm safety is about awareness and visibility, says Ward. Being safer requires that you slow down and make sure everybody knows what their jobs are, what their hazards are and how to avoid them.

Know hazard avoidance options

“It’s really about knowing what the hazards are and following through to make sure that everybody knows the best options to avoid those hazards,” he says.

On-the-job accidents in many occupations result in, at most, a trip to the nearest emergency room for a minor fall or an accidental cut.

That’s not the case in agriculture, where the use of heavy equipment in rural areas can be potentially deadly because “hospitals and emergency medical care are typically not readily accessible near farms,” according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In fact, agriculture remains the industry sector with the highest fatality rate, topping industries such as mining, construction, and transportation.

Fatal injury statistics

Statistics released in September by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries put the total agricultural work-related deaths at 479 in 2013, or 22.2 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers. In comparison, the transportation industry recorded 13.1 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, and the mining industry recorded 12.3 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers during the same time period.

“These figures are especially relevant during harvest season, as farmers are putting in long hours under the stress of weather delays, equipment breakdowns and heavy workloads,” says Scott Heiberger with the International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health.

“We urge farmers to set priorities to reduce the risk of injury to themselves, their family, and their employees.”

Harvest risks abound

During harvest season, the transportation of crops from the field to grain bins, grain processing facilities and cotton gins adds an entire new layer of complexity to safety operations.

Ward reminds farmers, “Transporting grain under harvest permits often means that these loads are heavier than what you may be used to hauling.

“That is going to change a lot about how the vehicle handles, how much room you need to safely stop, and how much room other drivers need to leave between their vehicles and yours. Also, the heavier the load the more any grain shift will affect the handling of the vehicle.”

“You may have a lot of seasonal drivers who may not be behind the wheel of a heavy, loaded vehicle year-round,” he says. “Rushing to get there is not worth the chance of an accident, because chances are good you will have to wait in line once you reach your destination anyway.”

Grain bin dangers

Another area of concern during the fall and winter months is grain bin safety. Each year, Ward says, grain bin accidents result in injuries and deaths.

“That really should not happen,” he says. “The best way to keep from having somebody in the grain bin in the first place is to do the job right at harvest and store your grain at the highest quality possible.”

“No grain bins are completely safe, but if you do have to enter a grain bin, you should always work in three-person teams,” he says. “While one person goes in to the grain bin, another safety person should be stationed at the door to keep an eye on the first person, and a third person should be stationed on the ground outside.

“That third person is then responsible for knowing the numbers to call for emergency, and he or she can tell people where to come if something goes wrong.” 

Aeration fans should be turned on and controls for augers should be locked out to prevent them being turned on while someone is in the bin. 

In addition, Ward suggests holding regular tailgate talks to insure everybody involved in the farming operation understands who and what are working around bins that particular day.

“No occupation is 100 percent safe, but we can do things to make farming safer,” he says.

For more on training for responding to emergencies, visit

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