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Safety initiative head wants to cut farm accidents

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013

"Equipment manufacturers have seen how farmers get hurt, and they've addressed those problems quite a bit," said Propst, also a rural firefighter and first responder to medical emergencies.

In his area, he said, "There's not been a major farm accident that I can think of in 10 years."

But the occupational niche farmers occupy presents some special challenges, and environmental hazards such as inhaling dust are among them.

Todd Wyatt, core director for research at the safety center, said the hog producers of a generation ago didn't work in confinement barns "and they didn't spend all day long with the pigs."

Now that they do, "components from dust in the swine barn actually slows down the cilia," the tiny hair-like projections that protect nasal passages and other parts of the respiratory system.

Working in confined settings, on steep terrain, with augers, agricultural chemicals and unpredictable livestock, on top of and inside grain bins — and working alone in remote settings — are risk factors that aren't overcome easily.

Plus, Propst said, farmers are responsible for more acres.

"We've got more to do so we're in a bigger hurry."

Roger Hoy, director of the tractor testing lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said there was a new problem to contend with, too — boredom.

"Before we had all these computers, farmers would actually drive the tractor."

Now, because of global positioning systems, he said, "a good portion of the time, a farmer is only there in case something goes wrong or to turn the tractor around at the end of a row."

Since the mid-1980s, rollover protection has been standard on new tractors. But surveys suggest many of the tractors still performing farm chores are from as far back as the 1930s and 1940s.

"A lot of those tractors are still running, and there's no rollover protection on them," Hoy said.

Part of the injury surveillance evidence accumulating at the agricultural safety center in Omaha, Director Rautiainen said, points to the absence on farms and ranches of safety standards enforced in ag business settings by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"Farmers working alone," he said, "nobody telling them what to do, many times take a risk that, in other industries, wouldn't be done."