Farmers across the fruited plain are starting a new season where hay,silage and crops will be their main concern.
However,a key issue that can't be forgotten is safety,Ron Jester,extension specialist for the University of Delaware,said.
With workers using machines capable of amputating limbs,crushing bodies and entangling clothing from a loose string,Jester said harvesting season is one of the most dangerous times of the year.
“When you're working from dusk until dawn,trying to get the most out of your day,it's very easy to minimize or forget about the safety issues,” Jester,said. “But the statistics are showing fewer injuries and fatalities each year because farmers are becoming better risk managers.”
In one of the most hazardous professions in the United States,farmers face the risk of being part of the yearly estimated 700 deaths and 120,000 injuries,according to a National Center for Farm Health and Safety 2000 report.
But rather than quitting their ventures,most farmers say they're finding better methods to safeguard themselves against machinery hazards.
“It's a lot of common sense,simple things that we've just gotten into the routine of doing,” Jennifer Mathes of Bartlett,Kan.,said. Mathes,who works with her husband on their farm and the 600 acres they rent,said small things such as proper attire and shields on machinery make their workplace safer.
“We wear gloves all the time,eye and ear protectors too; it's like working in a factory,but we're mainly outdoors,” she said.
Loose clothing often accounts for most of the accidents where operators are pulled or entangled into machinery,Sam Steel,director for the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety,said.
“If you have a hood or sleeve that gets caught in a power takeoff that rotates 16 times per second,it's nearly impossible to have time to react,” Steel said.
Besides protective wear,farmers often put protective shields around open machine areas,such as open power takeoff machines (PTO),cutting shears and rotating shafts,Jester said.
Most injuries are caused by PTOs,which Jester said are machines that transfer power from the tractor to the other machinery,such as hay balers and mowers.
“The farming equipment has done a good job of accommodating to the farmer's needs on this issue,” he said. “The great thing about these shields is that if the farmer is tired or makes one slip-up and hits some wrap point,it's not going to injure him and he can go on with his business.”
Older equipment that doesn't have protectors or shields tends to be more accident-prone,Jester said. “A lot of farmers are more at risk with older equipment that they might not continue a good upkeep on or don't check regularly,” he said. “Many times,a quick adjustment or just stopping to fix a small glitch rather than working through it can make the difference.”
Manufacturers,such as New Holland and John Deere,have added shields,rollover protectors (ROPs) for tractors,and safety features to make operating easier.
“One of our important updates has been the operator present system,which turns off the tractor or combine if the farmer leaves his seat to fix machinery or for whatever reason,” John Deere spokesman Barry Nelson said.
For farmers who can't afford to buy the newest machinery,dealers offer shields for older models to cover PTOs,pulleys,and other exposed areas for $15 to $35,Robert White,Deems Farm Equipment sales manager said.
“It's a small price to pay for being safer,” White said.
The majority of the more than 1.9 million U.S. farms,which the National Agricultural Statistics Service classifies as a place that produces or sells $1,000 or more worth of agricultural products,are family-owned,a 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture census said.
It's the family farm most extension specialists are concerned with,Steel said. “It's a unique situation because the home is where the workplace is,so there are higher dangers of accidents when you have people around aren't workers.”
But at family farms like the Mathes Farm,which has yet to have a serious machinery-related accident,continual safety talks with her husband and their 4- and 6-year-old daughters have helped keep the record clean.
“It can be a fairly dangerous time for families,but we just try not to get in a hurry and make easy mistakes,” she said.