Farm safety is crucial

It won’t be long and farmers everywhere will be on the land. Some have already started. When the weather and soil conditions are ideal, the big operators and custom operators will work around the clock in shifts. In a matter of days, millions of acres across North America will be planted. It’s truly amazing how this is achieved with modern, high-tech equipment and long man hours. Last spring I watched a 36-row corn planter at work. There is also a 48-row planter that plants a swath 120 feet wide.

When farmers are planting and harvesting, it is go, go, go. Between hazardous farm equipment and sometimes erratic livestock, farmers work in a very dangerous environment. Farm safety is a serious concern. Thus “Safety on the Farm” was the theme during the official opening of the Ottawa Valley Farm Show on March 8, 2016. Eastern Ontario Health and Safety Consultant Sheila James gave the audience a chilling reminder of the dangers of working around running equipment, of working with livestock and of cutting corners.

James, a representative with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services and a farmer herself, introduced three farmers who have been seriously injured in farm accidents. The first young man stood up front in a short-sleeve shirt. He had no arms, having lost them three years ago in a silo unloader auger. I felt so sorry for this man as I sat there looking at the three brave men. We complain about the price of hydro, gas, groceries and whatnot. Here was a young man with no arms.

As the men stood quietly behind her, James pointed out that, while accidents happen in a blink of an eye, they can affect you for years or even a lifetime. Although the men had been offered the opportunity to speak, they seemed to prefer that the Workplace rep give the message. The other two farmers are still suffering from their injuries. One had steel hooks for hands. His hands had been severed when he fell into a turning power-take-off (PTO) shaft. The other farmer suffered a broken back when a round bale came down on him from the front-end loader of his tractor.

Follow standard procedures

James said most farm accidents happen between the months of May to November. She reminded farmers to put the shields back on over the PTO if you’ve taken them off. Tractor rollovers are also a major cause of fatalities. Augers are the classic hazard any grain farmer should always be wary of. In the manufacturing industry, it is commonplace for workers to shut off, remove any keys and perhaps even physically disengage the mechanical means of any auger-like machine that is jammed before proceeding to fix it. But on the farm, standard procedures have not kept pace. James says she would be happy if farmers would at least start by shutting things off before trying to dislodge items or even performing regular maintenance.

“People can get their arms ripped off when something is jammed because they jump off quick to get it unjammed and their arm gets pulled in,” she says bluntly. “You have to shut it off!” James says bad weather compounds these bad habits.

Getting clothes caught in augers, PTO shafts and other revolving parts has been a problem since powerful machines were invented. Reading the weekly Eganville Leader the next day, there was an item in the “100 Years Ago” section (March 7, 1916) of a shocking tragedy at a sawmill. The operator of a steam sawmill had gone to the ground floor of the sawmill to adjust a piece of machinery, and while in a stopping position a set screw on a collar of a revolving shaft caught in his clothes. He did not survive.

The three-day Ottawa Valley Farm Show, now in its 89th year, attracts 10,000 to 12,000 visitors annually. To prevent more needless tragedy, let’s hope that James’ workplace safety message got through to all of them.


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