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Stress of harvest no time to shirk safety

We’re doing better: Farming, which for years ranked No. 2 behind mining as the most hazardous occupation in the U.S., has thankfully been improving.

In the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of fatalities in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting category declined by 10 percent in 2006.

Crop production, which had the highest number of fatalities in agriculture, dropped 14 percent from 2005.

This was part of an overall downturn in all fatal accidents. The BLS report notes that the overall fatal work injury rate was lower than for any year since the census was first conducted in 1992.

All this is good news, of course, but the scheduled observance of National Farm Health and Safety Week (Sept. 16-22) only emphasizes that much remains to be done, and that agriculture still ranks among the most hazardous occupations, along with construction (now No. 1), mining, and transportation.

The slogan for this year’s observance notes that it’s “not just for farmers any more” — that because of the involvement of farm machinery in roadway accidents, the general public needs to be made more aware of that equipment’s limitations in speed and maneuverability.

With much of farm country now abuzz with harvesting and transporting this year’s crops, “Farmers need to understand that many drivers on rural roadways don’t understand the maneuverability limitations of large machinery,” says National Safety Council President/CEO Alan McMillen. “Sharing the road is everyone’s responsibility, and being proactive about preventing accidents is just plain smart.”

This includes having SMV emblems on all machinery and turning on flashing amber lights to further increase visibility.

Off the highway, danger can lurk in many places. Working long hours in heat, humidity, and dust can increase fatigue and stress and contribute to inattentiveness around machinery.

Although corn harvester injuries are more notorious, they’re much less frequent than those from grain augers, which often involve young people who can, in a moment’s carelessness, lose an arm or a leg. Many injuries result from falls off combines or other equipment.

Grain bins, the location for deaths each year, are particularly a concern with this year’s huge grain crop and the large number of new bins that have been constructed on farms.

It takes only two or three seconds to become trapped in flowing grain, and less than 10 seconds to be totally submerged. Without help, suffocation can quickly follow.

The rule should be, safety experts say, never enter a grain bin while the unloading auger or suction tube is running. Always use the buddy system when unloading or loading grain. Be sure everyone knows approved rescue procedures. At other times, always lock all access doors to keep children and others from entering, and lock out power to all equipment.

Despite the progress made overall, accidental deaths continue at “an alarming rate,” McMillen says. Accidents are the leading cause of death for those in the 1-year to 41-year age group.

“Accidental death is a silent epidemic in America,” he says. “The economic and social impact is substantial for families, communities, employers, and the health care system.”

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