Live demonstrations bring rural safety into sharp focus

Dan Hansen
Installing a rollover protection structure (ROPS) on your tractor and wearing a seatbelt can exponentially increase the likelihood of surviving a tractor rollover.

LOYAL – Farming brings with it inherent dangers as owners and farm employees regularly work with large animals, large machinery and large grain and silage storage facilities.

To help increase awareness of the need to take measures to prevent farm accidents and learn how to rescue accident victims, live demonstrations of these critical incidents can be eye-opening for audiences. 

This summer the National Farm Medicine Center (NFMC) and Marshfield Clinic Research Institute coordinated several demonstrations at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days that were observed by thousands of visitors.

“Tractors are the number one cause of injuries on farms,” said Melissa Ploeckelman, NFMC education outreach specialist. “One demonstration is designed to illustrate how safety features such as a safety belt and Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS) can change the outcome of a tractor rollover,”

Odds of survival

Dale W. Dobson, safety administrator and education outreach specialist with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, narrated a tractor rollover demonstration, stressing the importance of using ROPS on tractors. 

“It takes only seconds to put a ROPS in the proper upright position,” he emphasized. “With a ROPS and seatbelt those involved in a tractor rollover have a 99% likelihood of surviving. Without these safety measure the survival rate is only 3%.”

Dobson travels throughout farming country conducting seminars and demonstrations that promote safe operation of farm machinery. Many of his workshops featuring safety training for farm employees related to specify equipment.

“Farm owners need to have safety plans, and train their employees how to operate machinery safely, including how to read the operator’s manual,” he said. “Communication is the key. Talk to each employee and take the time to explain why safety is so important.”

Tractors manufactured in 1985 and later have a ROPS, according Ploeckelman. “But many tractors made before 1985 are still being used in production agriculture. Those tractors can be retrofitted with a roll bar.”

The National Farm Medicine Center has started the ROPS rebate program where farmers can sign up to have their older tractor retrofitted with a ROPS and seatbelt. “With the rebate program, the farmer will pay only 30% of the cost. NFMC pays the remaining 70%. We’ve also made it so farmers will not pay more than $500 out of pocket,” Ploeckelman said.

Good neighbors

Many farmer’s are doing the best they can to be good community partners, according to Dobson. 

"When they leave their farms with large machinery, they have a plan where they can safely pull off the road to let other drivers pass,” he said. “Some are also posting their travel plans on social media so neighbors and other motorists can take an alternate road. It’s all about learning to work together and have mutual respect for those sharing the road.”

Another important part of farm safety is providing mental health support. “It’s a total waste for a human being to commit suicide,” he declared. “Many farmers don’t feel appreciated, so we have a program where we’re visiting farmers and basically telling them “we appreciate you.”’

Some farmers also feel isolated, and in many areas there is a lack of support when it comes to dealing with physical and mental health issues. “In the harvest season farmers are working 14 and 16 hours a day. They’re experiencing stress from drought and from the price of fuel going from $2 to $5 a gallon, and from a lack of replacement parts for equipment,” said Dobson. “You just need to check on your neighbors and friends a little more. Sometimes stop the truck and visit with them.”

Dobson has developed a program to support mental health on farms that features a commemorative coin he hands out that has “Raising Hope” on one side and the words “you are appreciated” on the other along with a phone number they can call for help and support.

Building a cofferdam of metal or plywood panels around a victim trapped in grain allows rescuers to remove grain from inside of the cofferdam reducing the pressure on the victim so they can be safely removed.

Don't get sucked in

“Grain bins are becoming more prevalent in Wisconsin,” noted Ploeckelman. “It’s very easy to get sucked into grain, and that’s why the third most common cause of farm injuries is suffocation, or drowning, including suffocation in a grain bin.”

Using a grain bin simulator, the Pittsville Fire Department together with personnel from other area fire departments demonstrated how to rescue someone trapped in a grain bin, with Jackie Rosenbush, the 2022 Wisconsin Fairest of the Fairs, playing the trapped victim.

Pittsville Fire Chief Jerry Minor states that 900 pounds of pressure can be exerted on a person trapped in a grain bin. “Victims can actually drown because the pressure will crush their lungs. If a person is buried in grain up to their waist, 300 pounds of pressure is needed to pull them out. That amount of pressure would rip them in half before they could be removed.”

Successfully rescuing a trapped individual is accomplished by building a cofferdam of metal panels around the victim. “Then we can remove the grain inside of that cofferdam reducing the pressure on the person trapped. Plywood panels also can be used,” said Minor.

To prevent getting trapped in the first place, Minor stressed the importance of wearing a safety harness before entering a grain bin, and to have a second trained person outside the bin keeping a watchful eye at all times on the person in the bin. “Before you even get into a grain bin, lock out all the power and put your name on the switch so everyone knows you’re inside the bin,” he said.