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Attacking Ag's Danger Zone

Phil Winborn has farmed long enough to earn ag veteran’s benefits. At 66, the Kalona, Iowa, farmer is the beneficiary of phenomenal advances in production and technology that have transformed the business of agriculture.

But Winborn knows that agriculture also has a soft underbelly – a less-than-spectacular record of improving safety for farmers and their families. Farms remain mired in a danger zone, characterized by a stubbornly high fatality rate of 25 to 30 fatalities per 100,000.

“Over time, I’ve learned that safety is an attitude,” Winborn says. “You have to keep working at it.”

A few years ago, he buried overhead power lines and disconnected knob-and-tube wiring in the old barn. He’s enlisted technology to install wireless video cameras on his grain cart, planter, and tractor.

Recently, Winborn decided it was time to kick it up a notch and take a more systematic approach. Encouraged by his son, Andy, 40, he agreed to schedule a Certified Safe Farm (CSF) review.

CSF is a voluntary agricultural health, safety, and wellness program developed in 1996. One component is an on-farm review to identify and remove hazards, and to provide personalized safety tips. To date, over 600 farms have participated.

“Our research indicates better CSF scores are related to reduced illnesses and serious injuries, resulting in lower medical costs,” says Kelley Donham, director of Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), University of Iowa.

The program is not related to any regulatory agency, and the CSF score is completely confidential. 

Winborn’s review was conducted by the CSF program at I-CASH. The CSF coalition includes North Carolina Agromedicine Institute; New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health; National Farm Medicine Center in Wisconsin; and Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“We’re working to create a framework to help standardize our evaluation tools, and, at the same time, address the regional needs of farmers,” Donham says.

LaMar Grafft, I-CASH rural health and safety specialist, and a former farmer, conducted the Winborns’ review.

Safety for the Winborns, like most farmers, is a multigenerational priority. Andy and his family moved back to Iowa one year ago. He handles the precision agriculture and helps with planting, harvesting, and equipment maintenance.

After growing up away from the farm, his children, Megan, 15, Scott, 11, and Lauren, 8, enjoy spending time there.

Grafft spent about 2½ hours at the Winborns. He gave their operation a passing grade but left them a safety to-do list.

His review started with machinery in the 60×96-foot shed. Two field tractors were equipped with flashers but were missing the Iowa-required SMV emblems.

The tractors lacked a good anchor for SMVs, but Winborn agreed to try to add brackets and then attach the SMVs.

Grafft suggested storing a tractor manual and other supplies under the seat. “Clutter can slide under the foot pedals or cause a tripping hazard,” he says.

Reduce fire hazards

Grafft attached a red warning tag to the Winborns’ Farmall M. It’s used with a rotary mower. “I encouraged them to add a roll-over-protective structure,” he says. “The overturn hazard is too great.” He provided contact information to obtain one through a local dealer.

The 2166 combine, a 1996 model, had a fire extinguisher attached to the rear. “I’d like to see a second fire extinguisher in the cab and an SMV on the head carrier,” he says. “Combine fires are the number one cause of property loss on farms. A lot of newer models have plastic fuel tanks, so if the combine catches fire, the tanks can melt down.”

Some trailered equipment fell short. A sprayer lacked an SMV emblem; two mowers needed new shields; and the bush hog chisel plow and field cultivator needed new hydraulic hoses.

Electrical components and shields at the grain bin site were in good condition. “At harvest, I’d recommend a fire extinguisher near the bins,” Grafft says.

To keep anyone from turning on the auger when someone else is inside a bin, he advises them to insert a cotter key, cable tie, or bolt in the shut-off handle.

Although machinery is a major focus, Grafft says that many injuries are related to animals, falls from elevated areas, slips, and lifting. “Trips on ice and falls from tractors are a common source of injury,” he says. “I also see a lot of electrical issues, especially extension cords. If you drive over them, they can get a short. They’re also a tripping hazard.”

He offered these final suggestions to the Winborns:

  • Place first aid kits in the combine, tractors, shop, and trucks.
  • Keep personal protective equipment nearby, including hearing protection and dust masks.
  • Limit the kids’ access to certain areas.
  • Clean the old barn and old shop.

Like most farmers, the Winborns know they can do more to reduce their safety risks. Their 2012 plan is to follow up with a series of preemptive safety strikes.

Operation FarmSafe Grants
Prevention pays off for farmers who conduct routine safety manuevers.

Operation FarmSafe offers you an opportunity to receive a $2,500 grant to make safety improvements on your farm. You may also request a CSF review free of charge. Your CSF score is confidential; there is no regulatory agency involved.

Thanks to Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance for providing funds for the CSF review and four grants. To receive a free review and a grant to make needed safety improvements, send a one-page application by May 31.

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