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Farm Safety Week still a necessary effort in 2017

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A Michigan farmer dying from chemical exposure and another in Kansas losing his arm in a manure spreader are recent examples why the emphasis on safety in agriculture still commands a spotlight.

But, there’s another component to farm safety with messages for the traveling public, especially during fall harvest. The Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) has launched its “Be Alert. Slow Down. Share The Road.” campaign aimed at drivers showing respect for tractors and other large farm implements hitting the roads.

Drawing the attention of safety experts regularly are those occurring on the farm that could be prevented, in many cases, by not skipping all of the necessary safety precautions. Recent tragedies include a 56-year-old hog farm operator in western Michigan losing an arm on Sept. 7 when a piece of clothing he wore while working a manure spreader became tangled in the PTO shaft.

In late July, a 66-year-old Kansas farmer died from exposure to anhydrous ammonia because of the chemical leaking from a hose on his tractor.

Field said about 25 percent of all farm fatalities nowadays occur on small farms operated part-time or as a hobby. Many operators are not very experienced and because of cost, purchase decades-old machinery that doesn’t have the safety mechanisms found on newer machinery.

“They’re more likely to make mistakes when they work with old equipment, so if they’re going to be in this business, they’ve got to be especially aware they have the potential for injury when they’re using some of this older equipment,” he noted.

Field said a good percentage of the old machinery shouldn’t be used anymore. “Some of that stuff ought to be retired permanently. It ought to be sent to the scrap yard. I go to several auctions a year, and everything sells.”

Now is an excellent time to review agricultural safety procedures, in the middle of National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 17-23. Many press releases and handouts on specific activities may be read at the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety website at

Shared ag/public safety

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), farm-related vehicles and equipment, excluding trucks, were involved in 87 fatal crashes across the nation last year. In addition, less than 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but more than half of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities nationwide occurred in those parts, according to NHTSA.

“It’s important for all motorists, especially those that live in rural areas, to take their time and drive carefully around slow-moving farm equipment,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, also state agriculture secretary.

“Farmers on roadways are going to and from work just like everyone else, and far too often incidents occur that could’ve been avoided if people just exercised a little caution, courtesy and common sense,” added Ted McKinney, ISDA director.

With tomatoes and other crops like green beans presently being brought in from the fields, now is a good time for drivers to become fully prepared for the upcoming corn and soybean harvest, when farm-related traffic is much heavier, said John Boyd, LaPorte County sheriff.

He said motorists should leave plenty of distance between themselves and farm implements they’re behind and provide ample space for the heavy equipment to safely execute wide turns. He also suggested drivers, instead of veering abruptly to the left and passing from behind, wait until farmers find a safe place to pull to the right side of the road to let them go by.

Passing on the left in a hurry can result in a collision, especially if a passenger vehicle is in the blind spot of a farm equipment operator suddenly making a left turn, Boyd explained. “Motorists have to be very, very careful while approaching from behind.”

The ISDA also suggests the traveling public keep a close eye out for red triangles on the backs of tractors and farm equipment and not pass in no-passing zones or within 100 feet of any intersection, railroad grade crossing, bridge or tunnel.

Bill Field, a farm safety expert at Purdue University, said some crashes would cease if farmers quit transporting implements taking up too much of the roadway. Wide headers on a combine, for example, should be taken off and transported separately.

“We still have people that don’t, and that’s where we see some of these problems occurring. They’re trying to go from one field to the next and the next thing you know, they’re taking up the whole width of the roadway,” said Field.

He advises passenger vehicles traveling in front and behind wide farm machinery to give other motorists they’re about to encounter advance warning.