Farm safety issues are changing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 18, 2006

By Sara Aeikens, For the Tribune

What’s your image of a lack of farm safety: a family member or neighbor losing a limb due to a farm machinery accident?

Paul Horejsi of Albert Lea, an employee of Erlandson’s

Inc. for 22 years, recalled his dad’s farming partner, an uncle, losing an arm in a farming accident when Horejsi was in the third grade.

He also noted that someone asked his uncle at a wedding how he lost his arm and the reply was, &8220;I sucked my thumb as a kid too much.&8221;

The accident caused his uncle to quit farming for a while, but, Horejsi said, &8220;It was hard for him to stay off the farm and he eventually came back. Farmers are resilient.&8221;

Farm safety issues are even more paramount today.

Twenty-first century topics under farm safety could start with agro-terrorism, which is in a U of M college course offered for students concerned about &8220;safety and environmental health issues and plant and animal production.&8221;

The course includes discussion on agricultural food systems terrorism.

Gary Gulbrandson of the Hayward Cooperative Grain Elevator said the co-op is very familiar with agroterrorism concerning farm safety issues.

&8220;We have taken classes about it for several years, but especially since 9/11, with all the hazardous materials we handle.

Since early 2005 our commercial drivers must have a background check for hauling hazardous materials, in order to get a license,&8221; he said.

In researching most frequently asked questions about today’s farm safety, the concerns were mainly about following the rules and regulations governing farming, to prevent breaking the law.

In addition to traumatic injuries, terrorism and farm regulations, other farm safety issues deal with airborne contaminants, respiratory diseases, pesticide health effects, ergonomics and environmental impacts related to animal production. This means equipment, animals, poisons, chemicals and fertilizers and storage areas are hot spots for safety precautions on a farm.

Changes in statistics about farming hazards are also affected by education about farming safety, engineering changes in farming related items and enforcement of public policy.

According to the National Safety Council, &8220;Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., with more than 700 farmers and ranchers dying in work-related accidents yearly.&8221;

Women are also at risk and senior farmers and even bystander children are at an increased risk from farm accidents and injuries, which is exacerbated by emergency medical care not being readily accessible.

The NSC surveys also reflect &8220;farmers aren’t taking advantage of injury-preventing safety equipment and are not using life-saving rollover seat belts.&8221;

Hearing loss is another issue not mentioned in the survey summary.

Whether living or working on a farm, good management, especially safety management. is imperative for staying healthy and saving time, money and sometimes a life.

The NSC suggests the following checklist:

-&160;Develop a safety and health plan tailored to the farm family, employees and operations. This includes an emergency communications plan, written down and reviewed yearly.

-&160;Train everyone and enforce rules.

-&160;Carry out regular safety inspections of equipment and facilities.

-&160;Buy quality products and follow usage and care instructions.

-&160;Keep children away from machinery until the appropriate age for doing chores.

-&160;Get rest and reduce stress.

-&160;Attend local health and environmental sessions and keep up-dated on farm safety.

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) states it is the &8220;only organization with a hands-on farm equipment safety training center.&8221;

Its goal is to prevent illness, injuries and deaths of those working with agriculture.

It is located in Peosta, Iowa (1-888-844-6322).

Bob Koestler, also of the Albert Lea Seed House, said &8220;Nowadays,

if you buy a new tractor, all the safety features are built in.

The problem is, when a farmer can’t afford a new tractor and probably doesn’t have money to fix up the old one.

He might have a starter problem, for example, and not fix it and tries to start it while it is in gear and someone gets run over.&8221;

Horejsi, service manager at Erlandson’s, said, &8220;We try to talk to farmers about safety at special workshops both in the spring and the fall. They include a safety section, such as being sure to use lock-up equipment. One of the things happening is equipment is bigger &045;&160;about twice the size as 20 years ago and lots of farmers may not take that into consideration.

&8220;We’re a generation or two away from the farming community and people don’t realize the farmers are out and come upon a tractor with top speed of 20 mph and they are doing 60.

We’re just kind of happy and surprised there aren’t more accidents on the roads, either paved or gravel,&8221; Horejsi added.

Another safety factor Horejsi encouraged is farmers getting enough sleep, especially since tractor cabs are now more comfortable.

&8220;They actually have self-steer systems and it’s easy to fall asleep in the middle of a pass through a row. They have to wake up at the end of the row to turn.&8221;

There is no subsitute for checks and balances, he said. &8220;Everyone has a cell phone now, but farners still need a written log at home as to where they are and where the field is.&8221;

Tom Ehrhardt of the Albert Lea Seed House said farmers generally don’t have to spray for insects as heavily as they once did, &8220;since the product or grain, such as soybeans is bred genetically to repel the insect through its chemical make-up with an added enzyme.&8221;