Danger in the Fields

Updates Sept. 2015– 

During September, the National Safety Council will promote National Farm Safety and Health Week.  

In England, agriculture remains one of the most dangerous professions, as these statistics and graphs demonstrate. And this series of 20 videos from England highlight the dangers on farms that can affect the farmer, the families, and visitors to the farm. 
Sept. 2014:  This site provides National Farm Safety Week information and a link to 40 farm safety videos. 

April 2014:  According to the University of Iowa Burn Treatment Center, the number of patients injured by anhydrous ammonia is on the rise—they recommend that farmers be extra cautious with fertilizer and chemical use.
February 2014:  A farmer in England is dragged into a harvester and barely escapes with his life. Grain bins, cotton gins, tractor turnovers, machinery accidents–the simple truth remains that agriculture is far more dangerous than statistics show.

2013 link:  Danger is part and parcel of agriculture. Row crops or livestock, grain bins or cotton gins, tractor or trailer, chemicals or heat — death is often a single mistake away. In 2010, there were 621 work-related fatalities in the U.S. agriculture industry.   

** Earlier blog entries below about the dangers of farming… 

More than a Reality Show
 Reality TV shows cover risky jobs and even farm harvests, but it took a rash of accidents in the Midwest to remind me that agriculture ranks high in the dangerous jobs category. The USDA publishes statistics and spreads safety information, but the real stories are told in rural newspapers and in the faces of those left behind, grieving the losses.

     In Kansas, a grain elevator explosion sent a huge orange fireball into the night sky and took at least six lives. Grain dust can become explosive, and this report points out that 600 grain elevator explosions have occurred in the United States in the last four decades, killing more than 250. 
     In central Iowa, a 70-year old farmer on a tractor was struck by a train going 50-mph, but since the impact threw him from the tractor, he survived and was quoted as saying, “It’s time for me to retire.”

     And in a nearby Iowa county, a farmer died in an anhydrous ammonia accident. A cloud of the poison gas enveloped the man after a hose broke on the tank. The farmer’s son charged into the cloud, but the rescue attempt failed; the son is recovering in the hospital.
     Another aspect the statistics can’t show is the way rural communities respond to tragedy. In the following blog reprinted from one year ago, we see the ways farmers come together to help in times of need. (Dan Gogerty)

It’s What Farmers Do
     Mark Brown of Anita, Iowa, worked his final harvest on October 14. Rescuers found him dead under his burning combine. He apparently was trying to unhitch part of the equipment to save some of the machinery from the fire. Brown had sailed around the world in U.S. navy submarines, but he settled on the land, and he became passionate about his family, his faith, and his farm. He also became a statistic in the ledgers of farm dangers.
     Mark Brown’s untimely death points out more about agriculture than safety awareness.  As a Des Moines Register article put it, “One of rural Iowa’s greatest traditions was renewed.”  Neighbors arrived with combines, friends prepared food, and at one time, a line of 39 semitrailer trucks stood by to haul grain. The Brown family had 1,400 acres of corn still in the field, and the neighbors made sure the harvest carried on.
     I left the Midwest and its rural communities for 25 years, but Dad sent letters with hometown news, and I was relieved to note that even as the farming landscape changed, some of the spirit remained. In the 90s, he wrote, “A few good old boys helped Albert and his two sons combine the rest of his corn while he slows down a bit for some chemo treatments.”  In another letter, he pointed out that “Arden spent much of the week in Des Moines where they’re treating his son for leukemia, so Scott and another neighbor did his chores.” 
     Good neighbors bake pies for funerals, deliver sweet corn in the summer, and help roundup cattle that have gone walkabout. The community barn-raising days are mostly gone, but Dad’s letters contained anecdotes about the sharing that occurs in agricultural circles. “Larry and his family lost their house and belongings in a fire but some neighbors let them use the house and all its furnishings while they’re away in Arizona.” Dad pointed out that the ones giving usually got greater rewards from doing the deeds than the recipients did.

      Being neighborly is not peculiar to Iowa. No doubt, rural folks around the world have ways of bonding together and helping each other out. Agriculture is a dangerous profession, but for many, it is more of a “family” than a profession.  A few days after her husband’s death, Nancy Brown looked out her kitchen window at four combines harvesting corn and said, “It’s what farmers always do.”  Dan Gogerty, October, 2010

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