By Doug Schmitz
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With harvest just around the corner, agricultural safety experts are advising farmers, their families, workers and visitors to exercise farm safety throughout the season.
“Harvest time is a busy period, so people are necessarily distracted and focused on getting the work done,” said Brandi Janssen, director of Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
“It’s also an exciting time of year, and an important ritual that family members are often involved in,” she added. “It makes sense that kids also want to be part of this annual family experience. However, since we know that a child dies on a farm about every three days in the U.S., it’s really important to find ways for kids to be involved without being in risky situations.”
Dan Neenan, director of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, who’s also a paramedic, agreed. “The farm is a great place to live, work and play, but also has some dangers to be aware of.”
He said according to the National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, Wis., youth under age 16 have 12 times the risk of ATV (all-terrain vehicles) injuries (both fatal and non-fatal), compared to adults. From 2001 to 2015, 48 percent of all fatal occupational injuries to young workers occurred in agriculture.
Janssen said one of the main causes of fatalities for farm children, and children visiting farms, is transportation and equipment.
“This includes kids riding on farm equipment and falling off, those who are in the path of equipment and are run over, and those who are operating equipment that is beyond their skill set,” she said. “Making sure that children are not in and around equipment is probably the best thing you can do to keep them safe.”
For grain bin safety, she said there are a few main safety strategies that should be used no matter what the task is in the bin.
“One, don’t go in without telling someone that you’re in there,” she said. “Ideally, have someone working with you as a spotter so that they can call 911, if needed. But, if you can’t have a partner on site, at the very least, let people know that you’re working inside a bin so they can check in on you by phone.
“Second, do not go in the bin if any grain moving equipment is running, and use ‘lockout/tagout’ procedures to ensure that no one turns on equipment while you’re in there,” she added. “This can be a simple zip tie and tag on the equipment controls to stop someone from firing up an auger. Those are two strategies you can use in any setting and with any type of bin set-up.”
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the lockout/tagout standard establishes the employer’s responsibility to protect employees from hazardous energy sources on machines and equipment during service and maintenance. This is generally done by affixing the appropriate lockout or tagout devices to energy-isolating devices – and by de-energizing or disconnecting from a power source – to machines and equipment.
Janssen said, “As far as storage, we know that if we have a wet fall, we are likely to see grain entrapments later in the year because the grain is more likely to go out of condition. So, the best grain quality also helps keep people safe because they don’t have to go into a bin to break up clumps or bridges.”
She said one concern she has is roadway safety “because harvest means that there is a lot of equipment on the roads – not only moving harvesting equipment from field to field, but also grain trucks moving product to co-ops.
“Another is because of the long hours associated with harvest time – especially for those farmers who may also have an off-farm job,” she added. “Long hours in a combine have the same fatiguing effect of a long car drive, which puts people at higher risk for an injury because they are tired and not functioning at full capacity.”
Neenan agreed, saying, “Farmers are in a hurry and when something breaks down, it is a hurried repair and the safety shields might not get put back on for the busiest time of the year. Also, issues with rural roadway safety as they are out after dark,” he said. “Farmers need to make sure that the lighting and marking on all pieces of equipment are operational and reflective.
“The motoring public needs to slow down when traveling on rural roadways and remember that they can’t pass a farm vehicle in a no passing zone and farmers will make left turns into farm fields,” he added. “Farmers should always look before making the left turn into the field to see if someone is trying to pass before making the turn.”
As far as educating parents and the general public, Janssen said her colleagues at the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (www.marshfieldresearch.org) have a wealth of resources on farm safety.
“I particularly like the Agricultural Youth Work Guidelines, an online tool that can help parents think through their kids’ developmental stages and what types of farm tasks are appropriate,” she said.
“There are a lot of really good reasons to get kids involved in the farm, but it’s important to remember that physical and emotional maturity changes over time,” she added. “I would recommend that anyone working in farm safety use these guidelines to talk with farm parents.”
Among the new programs the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety is working on, Neenan said, “Our newest training is ATV/UTV (utility task vehicle) safety for agriculture and is available as a webinar.”
At Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, Janssen said, “We have been partnering with the National ROPS (Rollover Protection Structure) Rebate Program and have designated a limited amount of funding to provide rebates for rollover protection on older tractors.
“Tractor rollovers remain a leading cause of death on U.S. farms, but installing and using a rollbar and seatbelt nearly eliminates the risk of a fatality in the case of a rollover,” she said. “The rebate program covers at least 70 percent of the cost of a (rollover protection structure) and the out-of-pocket maximum for the farmer is $500. You can go to www.i-cash.org, or www.ropsr4u.org for more information.”