Fall can be a dangerous time to be a farmer.
With corn silage harvest already weeks underway in parts of the state and other parts of the fall harvest rapidly nearing, more and more hazardous situations are liable to pop up.
From perhaps relatively minor slips and falls while getting on or off equipment to often seriously dangerous roadway collisions or tractor rollovers, farm-related injuries can cost operators time, money or, in worst-case scenarios, even their lives.
And these farm accidents are by no means an uncommon occurrence.
“I don’t know of a farm family that doesn’t have some kind of story of injury,” said Shelly Mayer, a dairy farmer and executive director of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.
Mayer relayed her own family’s farm accident story during the Sept. 9 PDPW Dairy Signal webinar, talking about an accident she remembered from her childhood of seeing her father come into the house with a missing index finger — able to be reattached — and two other injured fingers after an incident while working with a blower during chopping season. Mayer helped her father wrap dish towels around the injury before helping him get to her mother out in the field, who took her father to the hospital for care.
While Mayer’s father’s case was “just a matter of some digits,” the recovery was still a long process, she said.
One in five Midwestern farms will have injury in 2020, said John Shutske, professor, agricultural health and safety specialist and director of the UW Center for Agricultural Safety & Health. Of those injuries, 80% will require medical care.
The bad news statistics don’t stop there.
Farmers also have a workplace death rate of 22 per 100,000, a rate that is seven times higher than that for general industry, Shutske said during the Sept. 9 webinar.
While they may be jarring, statistics aren’t the whole story either, though.
“This is not just about data or statistics or numbers,” Shutske said. “We’re talking about people.”
Implementing key safety steps on the farm can help protect those people, both on and off the farm.
Roadway collisions, which are becoming quite prevalent, Shutske said, are one of few ag safety items that is also a public safety issue.
Farmers can do their part to help avoid these generally “catastrophic” collisions by making themselves as visible as possible and when possible, avoiding or minimizing being on roadways in low-light situations, Shutske said.
“It’s almost impossible to light yourself up too much,” he said.
Farmers are advised to check with their state department of transportation for minimum requirements, as well as be aware of any applicable national requirements, especially as they apply to newer machinery.
Tractor rollovers are another major farm safety issue and rank high on the list of causes of death for farmers, Shutske said.
Most at risk for rollovers are older machines, those with narrow front ends and those with a bucket loader or other high center or gravity, Shutske said.
Experienced drivers are also at higher risk when it comes to rollovers, Shutske said, noting that the “experienced” descriptor was not a typo and suggesting that complacency or a slower reaction time could be responsible.
Limiting exposure on pre-rollover-protection-structure machinery, using care when loading onto a trailer, retrofitting older equipment with ROPS when possible and considering a myriad of factors when determining the level of risk when driving on a slope can help prevent deaths, Shutske said.
Equipment fires can also prove to be dangerous, especially in the midst of chopping and combining.
Shutske recommended that farmers go into the engine compartments, where most fires start, of their equipment, especially choppers and combines, daily to clear out any material that may have accumulated and to remedy any fluid leaks before doing anything else. He also recommended that equipment have not one but two ABC dry chemical fire extinguishers, weighing at least 10 pounds, on hand.
Not every farm accident is as “dramatic” as roadway collisions or rollovers, but even so, they can still cause a considerable amount of difficulty for farmers to deal with, Shutske said.
Injuries resulting from fatigue, mounting or dismounting equipment, lack of training or mistaken assumptions can also happen quickly and result in potentially life-long consequences, whether they’re financial, physical or otherwise, he said.
Taking breaks; making equipment modifications, such as extra step, when needed for stability; and creating open lines of communication are ways to decrease those kinds of risks.
Among the best steps farmers can take right now as harvest season gets underway is to do a walk-through with anyone who is going to be using equipment on the farm to make sure everything is safe and everyone is clear on their responsibilities, Shutske said.
Still, while taking steps to prevent mishaps on the farm can go a long way toward decreasing the likelihood of one occurring, farmers will continue to be faced with the fact that not every accident is going to be 100% preventable.
“Things do happen,” Shutske said.