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Safety shields save lives

Over the years, Jim Bittner hasn’t been afraid to experiment with new crops or different production practices. However, when it comes to safety, the Appleton, New York, producer strives to reduce his risks.

“Back in the early 1990s, I had a worker catch his sweatshirt sleeve in a PTO,” he says. “He didn’t lose his arm, but it was a wake-up call. All shields need to be covered.”

Research from Purdue University reveals that one third to one half of the shields on rotating farm machinery shafts have been removed for maintenance and never replaced. As a result, power take-off entanglements are among the top three causes of serious injuries and fatalities. Insurance data reinforces the frequency and cost of entanglement injuries.

PTO shielding has seldom been described as farmer-friendly.

“It was very frustrating when I’d go to the dealer to replace a shield,” Bittner says. “There always was more than one possible replacement, and the measurements had to be exactly right.”

To address this hazard, the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH) near Cooperstown began working to come up with an adequate replacement shield.

Four years ago, it forged a successful partnership with BARE-Co. to sell low-cost retrofit shields. The retrofit shield kits include one large shield ($77) and one small shield ($59). The retrofit kits are sold through NYCAMH’s safety store. Add $8 for shipping and handling.

“It’s difficult to find a universal shield for all applications, but this one does better than anything else I’ve seen,” says Todd Fiske, NYCAMH outreach coordinator. “Each shield comes with an assortment of different-size bearings. A lever release allows the shield to slide back for ease of maintenance at the universal joint. It’s a vast improvement over other retrofits.”

To date, the NYCAMH has sold 370 retrofit shields through its safety store. The store and product catalog also feature a variety of personal protective equipment, including chemical, respiratory, hearing, and other items.

“We also take the retrofit shield kit to trade shows and to farms when we conduct safety trainings,” Fiske says.

A 2012 NYCAMH survey of farmers who ordered the shield found that 61% strongly agreed and 37% agreed that the retrofit made their farms safer.

Bittner was one of the first New York producers to order the BARE-Co. shields through NYCAMH.

He and his sons, David and Kevin, operate Singer Farms with partner Jacqueline Singer. They grow over 500 acres of fruit. Their main crops are stone fruits (cherries, peaches, apricots, and Japanese plums), apples, and U-pick sweet cherries.

Most of their PTOs are on their orchard sprayers and mowers. “We run four sprayers and three mowers, and they’re used a lot of hours every summer,” he says.

During peak seasons, Singer Farms employs about 30 workers; seven are full time, year-round employees.

“The shields fit well, so it’s painless and cheap,” Bittner says. “We’ve got to just do it.”

The farm is certified for Global GAP ( Good Agricultural Practices), as well as under Tesco’s Nature’s Choice. “We’re also inspected for worker’s comp,” Bittner says. “We have an extra shield on hand, so we can replace one and keep going.”

Research results

The NYCAMH has been conducting research on farmer use of safety shields, in preparation for a social marketing campaign. NYCAMH visited over 200 New York livestock and dairy farms.

“We found 57% had shields in place,” Fiske says. “That means almost half had missing shields. Almost 90% had at least one missing shield. Only nine farmers turned down our request to check for shields and take photos. It’s a credit to farmers’ concern about safety.”

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