Focus: Farm accidents cause serious injury, death

Many of the accidents associated with grain bins are due to falls. A ladder on the side of a bin should have the protective cage around it. Only people in the proper physical condition should climb a ladder.

Farm incidents in Nebraska in the last three months took four lives and injured two people. The victims were all men.

The incidents involved working in a grain bin, cutting down a tree, being attacked by a bull, being thrown from a tractor and ATV, and being electrocuted. Five of the men ranged in age from 42 to 69 years. The age of the sixth was not reported.

Those incidents only include the ones were reported by the media. Ag Injury News keeps track: During the three month period, they listed 82 incidents nationwide.

Many victims are older adults, but 113 people younger than 20 years old die on average in a year, from farm-related incidents, according to the Grain Handling Safety Coalition. On average, 167 agricultural workers suffer an injury that results in lost work time each day. About five percent of those injuries result in permanent impairment.

Tractor rollovers are the number one cause of deaths on the farm, said Ellen Duysen, the coordinator for the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, stationed at University of Nebraska Medical Center.

A lot of older tractors still do not have rollover protective structures. That, combined with rough conditions, badger holes in pastures, excessive speed and other situations, can make for a deadly combination.

Grain bins are high on the list, too. Duysen said many newer bins are designed to attach life lines. Still, “We don’t want anybody in the bin” unless absolutely necessary.

“If you have to go in, have three people there,” she said.

The one entering the bin should be on a harness and life line. Another person should man the lifeline. Someone else should be on the ground, communicating with the other two, and ready to summon assistance if necessary.

This winter there may be more of a concern about grain in storage on the farm than usual. In their December report, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service reported that 20 percent more soybeans were in storage on the farm in Nebraska than the year before. Soybeans, corn or other grains can mold due to moisture migration to the top of the bin, especially if they are stored at higher than optimal moisture conditions. The grain may remain stuck together, forming a bridge, while grain below is transferred out of the bottom of the bin. A person who enters the bin can fall through and become engulfed quickly, regardless of whether the grain below is flowing.

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Crop Watch web site, a person who is trapped in grain can suffocate within a minute, even if his head is not covered. When the person exhales “the grain flows into the space created by the movement of your chest, placing pressure on your chest and reducing the space that your lungs have to expand during your next inhalation. Each time you exhale a breath, the space around your chest decreases.”

Duysen said falls from bins are another problem. Ladders on the sides of bins should be fitted with the proper cages, and only thouse physically suited to climb should do so.

She said it is also common for people to get caught in sweep augers used to clean the last of the grain out of bin that is being emptied.

Sources of injury also include all terrain vehicles, power take-off shafts, belts, pulleys and other moving parts. People are injured while working with horses, cattle and other animals, stacking or loading hay, etc.

Everyone needs to be careful, aware and not take chances with their health and safety, said Duysen. “I believe that if we keep it front and center in people’s minds we can start to change behaviors” that lead to tragedies.

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