Safety initiative head wants to cut farm accidents

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The director of a new safety initiative at the University of Nebraska Medical Center expects its attention to such agricultural hazards as dust, noise and sleep deprivation to strike a blow against the deaths and injuries that make farming the most dangerous occupation in the United States.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports (http://bit.ly/WW3p11 ) that Risto Rautiainen of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health in Omaha isn't satisfied with statistics that show a decrease in fatalities nationally from 3,300 in the 1960s to 550 in 2011.

"No, I think we need to make a lot more progress," said Rautiainen, who has a Ph.D. in occupational and environmental health and about a dozen team members who devote all or much of their time to farm safety issues.

Omaha is the newest of nine regional centers that recently earned praise from an independent review that cited them as a low-budget, high-impact way to make the lives of farm and ranch families safer. Their work, also aimed at risks to rural kids, is under the organizational umbrella of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

In Nebraska, 15 to 20 people die in farm accidents every year. With 60 to 70 industries taken into account, "that's the biggest group," Rautiainen said, "and truck drivers on the interstate are the other big group."

Tractors with rollover protection, shields on moving machinery parts and growing safety awareness are among the reasons the toll of deaths and injuries is in decline. But it isn't hard to find crop and livestock producers in Southeast Nebraska who have had firsthand experience with serious accidents.

Jon Propst's father broke his hip, suffered other serious injuries and spent 39 days in the hospital when he got entangled in a power take-off shaft near Seward in the 1960s.

Much more recently, Rod Hollman of Martell had an unpleasant encounter with an Angus cow and her strong mothering instinct.

"Just last spring, I was tagging a baby calf," Hollman said, "and the cow got behind me and knocked me through a barbed wire fence."

A log of accidents kept by the safety and health center for its seven-state territory — Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri — tracks mayhem in thumbnail descriptions like this one:

"28-FEB-12 Crete, male, 33, fatal . Entangled in sweep auger within grain bin on family farm."

Propst and Hollman agree farming isn't as dangerous as it was decades ago.