Taking safety precautions on farms, big and small

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Land Grant College Act, naming UW-Madison a land grant university. Dwight Mueller, director of the UW-Madison Agricultural Research Centers, said there are now 11 research stations throughout the state.

'The key is that it starts with a faculty member on campus,' Mueller said. 'They are the ones overseeing the research, oftentimes conducting it on research stations. The university maintains dairy herds, for example, at Arlington, Marshfield, and on campus, as well as at a joint federal and state facility at Prairie du Sac.'

These days, a large federal grant is allowing researchers to focus on developing alternate sources for bioenergy, grooming new varieties of switchgrass as biomass for conversion to ethanol, Mueller said.

With all these research farms comes a responsibility for worker safety just like any other farm operation in the state.

Speaking with farm employees during a recent worker safety training session, Mueller said, 'We're in an industry that is ranked on top of risk for accidents.'

Safety training on all farms

Mueller admitted that the university research farms are not immune to accidents. Farm accidents can occur anywhere, and he knows it is important for university farm employees to be adequately trained just like employees from any other farm.

When students are involved, the challenge to keep people safe is even greater because some come in with previous farm experience and others do not, he said. The effort to prevent accidents is even greater and must be an intentional effort that involves everyone who does anything at all on the farms.

The university farms, like any larger farms, must keep records of accidents. Mueller said that is not just a regulatory thing. He said it is an important way to look at what happened and determine ways it could have been prevented or whether it could have been dealt with more efficiently.

Even the 'near misses' should be reported.

'Don't deny or keep it to yourself if you have a near miss,' said David McIntyre, safety specialist. 'Share with others to prevent it from happening again.'

He pointed out that many researchers are not familiar with farm equipment and did not grow up on a farm, and it is important to make them aware of any possible dangers.

Ideas for staying safe

He also pointed out that fatigue can make a person at risk for having an accident. Working long hours, especially during busy harvest or planting seasons, can lead to the risk of accidents.

As a university, supervisors must provide and document all training. They must provide proper equipment; make sure guards and safety features are in place; and provide safety apparatus such as goggles, hearing protection and eye-wash stations, along with instructions.

Private farms are no different. Larger farms are required, by law, to provide these things, but smaller farms should also take steps to make sure everyone involved on the farm — whether family members, owners or employees — are safe.

When McIntyre taught the recent safety session at the West Madison Research station, he stressed prevention and the importance of knowing limitations.

'The average human reaction time is three-fourths of a second, and equipment is faster than we are able to react,' he said. 'Reaction time is affected by time, age, medication and fatigue.'

He used examples of potential accidents. A 6-inch auger entangles 10 feet per second, and 7.5 feet can be wrapped up before a person can react. A PTO at 540 RPM can entangle 7 feet per second. Equipment falls at the rate of 32 feet per second, faster than a person can move away.

He also illustrated other accidents and mentioned ways they may have been avoided.

A tractor pulling a loaded wagon of grain or forage has a lot of weight behind it and will not be able to stop quickly when something is in the way. A tractor roll-over bar will do no good if the driver is not using the seatbelt.

He cautioned farm workers about how they respond to accidents as well.

'Don't become a victim yourself,' he said. 'Call for help immediately, and then assess the scene before reacting.'

In a tractor rollover, for instance, there is the potential for a fire. The stability of the tractor is also questionable, and attempting to move it could result in another accident. Also, the wheels of a tractor could still be turning if it is running and in gear.

'Resist the temptation to use a loader or another tractor to pick up the tractor. It can result in further damage or injury,' he said.

'Also, if someone is pinned under it, the best thing to do is wait for help to arrive because the injury could become more severe when the weight of the tractor is taken off the body,' he cautioned.

In the case of a PTO or auger entanglement, shut off the equipment and call 911. Care needs to be taken when disentangling a machine because the entanglement may be preventing bleeding.

In case of an accident on the road, he suggested placing reflective triangles at key locations on each side of the accident to alert oncoming traffic. Also, put on an orange vest.

Stock these safety tools on the farm in order to have them readily available.

When calling for help, explain where the accident is. Emergency responders have home and business addresses, but they are not familiar with particular fields on a farm. If possible, send someone to the road to meet the EMS.

Most emergency vehicles cannot go off-road, particularly when it is wet. Tell them that when calling so they will come with an appropriate rescue vehicle.

When help arrives, let them take charge.

While employers are responsible for the safety of their workers, McIntyer pointed out that safety is everyone's responsibility. Employees also need to take responsibility for their actions. They just need to have the proper training and appropriate safety equipment and supplies to remain safe.