National Farm Medicine Center Farm coordinating safety and rescue area at Farm Technology Days

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
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Daniel Briel had entered the grain silo on his Barron County farm countless times with out incident.

While working with his two sons, ages 14 and 15, to clear off a buildup of silage on the walls of the silo on a March evening, the overhead feed matter collapsed on the trio. While the older son was able to escape, his father and brother weren't so lucky.

Last week Charlie Ray was driving his small Ford tractor along a path on his Richland County property on June 27, when the small tractor left path and hurtled down a ravine, killing the 62 year old.

The headlines are both heartbreaking and unfortunately not uncommon. Farming ranks as the most dangerous industry in the U.S. with a yearly death rate of 20.4 farm work related deaths for every 100,000 workers – six times higher than the combined average for all U.S. workers, according to the National Safety Council.

The most recent farm fatality count in Wisconsin, released in late 2016 by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, showed 26 farmers, employees, and/or family members died in 2015 from farm work-related causes.

"We would love to see those numbers go down," said National Farm Medicine Center (NFMC) Outreach Specialist Melissa Ploeckelman. "And to do that we need to stress prevention of these incidents and making safety a priority."

Farm Technology Days will serve as a statewide platform to help the NFMC get its message across to farmers with largest-ever safety demonstration.

Ploeckelman says NFMC is teaming up with the Pittsville Fire Department, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Progressive Agriculture Safety Days, local FFA chapters and others in setting up live demonstrations of tractor rollovers, tractor rollover rescues, grain rescue, child safe play areas and interactive activities for older children.

"We want to show people just how fast these mishaps can happen," Ploeckelman said.

The NFMC also wants to illustrate how safety features such as safety belts and Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS) can change the outcome of a tractor rollover.

"If your tractor isn't equipped with a ROPS, the driver has only a 3% chance of surviving. If the tractor has  ROPS installed, the chance of surviving a rollover increases to 70%," Ploeckelman said. "If the driver is wearing a seatbelt and driving a tractor equipped with ROPS and is involved in a rollover, their chance of surviving rises to 99%!" 

A study from Purdue University found that there were 29 grain entrapment cases reported in 2016 – a 21 percent increase from the previous year – with 11 of the cases proving fatal.

Ploeckelman says a farmer doesn't necessarily need to be completely engulfed by grain to be in trouble.

"Someone can even suffocate if that grain comes up as high as the chest because the grain is actually pushing on the lungs where a person can't even draw a breath," she said.

During the on-site demonstration, Ploeckelman says a person will be lowered into a makeshift grain bin to show how fast a person can become entrapped in grain, and how long it takes for rescue personnel to reach that person.

Another hazard on a farm centers around the use of power takeoff shafts - a rapidly spinning device at the rear end of the tractor that sends power to attachments such as self-unloading feed wagons, blowers and mowers.

"Again, people don't realize just how fast they can get pulled into and entangled in a PTO," Ploeckelman said.

Accidents are more likely to happen when farmers get in a hurry and are lulled into a sense of security due to having performed the action numerous times.

"We realize at the NFMC that it's a hard time economically for farmers and life isn't very easy right now," she said. "But we just want them to keep safety in the forefront of their mind because at the end of the day it's more important that you're alive and intact."

NFMC's parent organization, Marshfield Clinic Health System, is a major sponsor of Farm Technology Days and will provide an array of health screenings, including skin cancer screening funded in part by Auction of Champions donors.

National Farm Medicine Center scientist Casper Bendixsen, Ph.D. said Farm Technology Days visitors will be able to see how closely a health care system can be involved with taking care of its ag community.

"One of the things visitors will see is how closely a health care system can be involved with rural health care, and in taking care of its agricultural community," said NFMC Scientist Casper Bendixsen, Ph.D. "That will be a really neat feature that we haven't seen at previous Farm Tech Days."

The Farm Safety and Rescue Area will be located on the north end of Tent City. Fire departments from Arpin, Vesper, Richfield and Hewitt will join Pittsville in staffing two of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, adjacent exhibit tables will feature the NFMC and the Wisconsin Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) Rebate Program. The National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety will be in the Future Generations Area, promoting child safe play areas to parents and partnering with Progressive Agriculture Foundation to offer interactive activities for older children and teens, with prizes available for completing activities.

The National Farm Medicine Center is the largest group of full-time agricultural health and safety researchers in the U.S. The team ranges in expertise, including: injury prevention, occupational and environmental health, bioinformatics, cultural/medical anthropology, public health, journalism/communications/media, education, sociology, and outreach.

Screenings in Innovation Square

  •  Acuity eye exams
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Acuity eye exams
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Glucose and cholesterol screening
  • Hearing screenings
  • Oral health screenings
  • Skin cancer screenings
  • Vascular screenings – ankle brachial and carotid
Live demonstrations will be provided during Farm Technology Days, July 10-12.

Additional offerings

  • Bone health and osteoporosis
  • Breast health
  • CPR
  • Distracted driving
  • Drug take-back
  • Eyeglass adjustments
  • Marshfield Area Coalition for Youth
  • Mental health
  • Mobile Mammography tours
  • Patient Assistance Center
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Small space gardening
  • Stop The Bleed
  • Women’s Health

The Marshfield Clinic is also staffing the first aid tent at the show.

For more information or to contact an official with NFMC/MCHS, call Casper G. Bendixsen, PhD at 715-387-9410.